Chargers' newcomers ice victory

RANTOUL – After replacing an injured teammate in the starting lineup Tuesday night, Jeff Johnson was in need of an ice pack himself.

While scrambling for a loose ball during the third period, the Centennial center took a painful knock to the knee.

"A guy's knee hit my knee," said Johnson, who had plans for the bags of ice he held in each hand after the game. "We went knee to knee and I bruised it up pretty bad."

Before the 6-foot-6 sophomore called it a night after three quarters, however, he put quite a hurting on Rantoul, too. Racking up career highs of 23 points and 13 rebounds, Johnson played a leading role in the Chargers' 89-53 nonconference victory against the Eagles.

"Jeff did a nice job," Centennial coach Tim Lavin said. "He's getting more and more comfortable. He's doing a nice job on the boards, and because he's been doing that, he's getting a little more comfortable offensively."

Johnson made his second consecutive start in place of 6-4 senior Dan Plecki, who is sidelined by a strained muscle in his lower back. In his varsity starting debut Friday against Mattoon, Johnson nearly recorded a double-double – scoring 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting while grabbing a game-high eight rebounds.

His double-double against Rantoul included an 11-for-15 shooting night.

"All of my teammates, they were just finding me," John-son said. "I was just standing under the basket and they found me."

True enough on many of his field goals, but Johnson showed several times he has shooting range, too. In the third quarter, Johnson sank the first three-pointer of his young varsity career.

"He can step out and shoot it," Lavin said.

Johnson wasn't the only Charger sophomore who made a major impact. Rayvonte Rice came off the bench to score 19 points on 9-of-15 shooting. The 6-3 guard also contributed five rebounds to Centennial's resounding 46-17 advantage on the boards.

"They're both very talented," Lavin said of his sophomore duo. "If we can get some wins where they can play a lot, I think they'll get more comfortable."

With Plecki expected to miss another week, Johnson is making it easy for his coach to get comfortable with the notion he has a more-than-capable replacement.

"The last couple of (games) have been good for him," Lavin said. "Hopefully he'll use that to get better and better as the year goes on.

"He realizes it's a little quicker up here, and guys are a little more physical. And I think it took him a while to get used to that."

Johnson, who spent all oflast season on Centennial's freshman team, said he recognized the difference immediately.

"It's a lot faster," he said. "Everyone's a lot bigger and stronger. It's not like freshman ball. You have to do all the little things to be able to have success. You can't just go out and win on pure talent."

Although Lavin cleared his bench by early in the fourth quarter, Centennial still ended up scoring its most points of the season.

Meanwhile, Rantoul (0-7) remained in search of its first victory of the season. The Eagles were competitive early, taking a 15-14 lead on consecutive baskets by guard Jordan McMahon.

But Rantoul scored two points during the next 7 minutes, 56 seconds and fell into a 38-17 hole. Coach Chris Wagner said the game got away from his Eagles when they got away from what had given Rantoul its lead.

"We stopped running offense, and we just started chucking the threes," said Wagner, whose Eagles finished the game 3 of 17 from beyond the arc. "Then they go up a little on us and we thought we needed to shoot more threes rather than run the offense."

Guard Tyler Patterson led Rantoul with 11 points.

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