URBANA – Maybe it was the fact that their winless opponent was all too tempting to overlook. Or maybe it was the distracting anticipation of today's invitation to play on the Assembly Hall court.
Whatever the reason, the Centennial Chargers looked out of sorts Friday night en route to a 63-47 Big Ten victory against Urbana.
"It was kind of an ugly win," Chargers coach Tim Lavin said. "I guess a win's a win. Sometimes you win ugly, but we got out of what we do well and that's sharing the ball and not gambling on defense."
It was the wrong night to do either against an inexperienced Tigers team that put up one of its toughest fights of the season.
When Matthew Wilson sank a three-pointer and Ian Hanke followed with a basket early in the second quarter, Urbana was right on Centennial's heels, trailing 22-20.
"We were right there matching buckets," Tigers coach Terrence Gray said. "We were moving the ball, finding the open man, knocking down some shots. The defense was looking pretty good.
"(Then) once again, we hit that drought where we don't score."
In fact, an Urbana attack prone to disappearing for minutes on end managed merely two points over the final 6:43 of the first half. The Chargers capitalized, rebuilding their lead to 33-22 by halftime behind center Jeff Johnson's 12 first-half points.
But that momentum didn't carry over into the second half. Though Centennial outscored the Tigers in the second half, it was by a modest 30-25 margin.
And in the aftermath of their fifth victory in their last six games, the Chargers sounded less than thrilled at how it was accomplished.
"We won, but it was an ugly win," Centennial guard Bryson Davis-Johnson said. "It was a tough game mentally because we came in thinking that we were just going to blow them out, and they came to play.
"We would have liked to have won better, but we've just got to bring the intensity tomorrow."
In a quick turnaround, the Chargers will be back on the court at 12:15 p.m. today for the WDWS/News-Gazette Shootout at the Hall. Centennial faces Rich South and Illinois recruiting target Crandall Head on the Illini's home court. Urbana is headed to the Hall, too, taking on Mount Zion at 10:30 a.m. in the Shootout opener
While searching for reasons why his Chargers too often abandoned the pass or took risky chances on defense, Lavin wondered whether the impending trip to the Assembly Hall was a factor.
"Maybe that was it," he said. "Maybe they were looking to the game tomorrow. But you've got to play game by game. And you're playing a crosstown rival who is maybe a little bit down, but they're hungry. They came out in the first half and definitely outhustled us."
Guard James Kinney scored a game-high 17 points for Centennial, which dominated the boards. With forward Rayvonte Rice hauling in 13 rebounds and Johnson grabbing 10, the Chargers outrebounded Urbana 40-24.
Wilson, who sank four three-pointers, led the Tigers with 16 points. Junior Simeon Simmons contributed 11 points, including seven in the final quarter, while running the Urbana attack for most of the game.
"This was the best Simmons has played," Gray said. "He's a quality point guard. He had probably one or two turnovers, and that's what I need from him is to take care of the ball. He plays great defense so this was one of his most consistent games through all four quarters."
Central 93, Mattoon 25
Verdell Jones had 18 points and powered a 32-0 run that spanned the second and third quarters for the host Maroons.
Central (6-1, 3-1) also got 16 points from Jerry Exum and 13 apiece from Keith Biggers (10 rebounds) and Zander Culver.