Maroons nearly sent packing early

Maroons nearly sent packing early

DANVILLE – Maybe sunny Florida was on the collective minds of the Champaign Central boys' basketball team.

Though the Maroons still came out on top in Friday night's Big 12 Conference matchup with Danville, they got a scare from the Vikings in a 54-47 victory.

"It's kind of hard to focus on games because you want to get out there to Florida, the hot, sunny weather, the beautiful women and a new environment," Central senior Donald Stewart said. "But as Coach was stressing, we just need to focus on this, and then get it done in Florida."

Central's offense looked like it already had flown south in the first half, and Danville took advantage.

The Vikings led 14-4 at the end of the first quarter and held a 23-16 edge at halftime.

The Maroons' two big guns, Stewart and Verdell Jones, were held in check early (combined 1 for 11 from the field, 0 for 6 from three-point range in the first half).

"Not everyone is going to have their best game every night or shoot the ball well every night," Central coach Scott Davis said. "You've just got to play through it and keep playing hard."

But Central woke up during the break with some strong words from Davis.

"Offensively we weren't doing anything," he said. "We talked at halftime, if you're going to attack that zone you've got to look to penetrate, you've got to look to flash the middle, you've got to look to reverse the ball. I said, 'If you're going to win this game, you've got to work the ball. If you decide to take one pass and shoot up a three, you're going to lose.' "

Stewart started the turnaround with a big third quarter (nine points, three rebounds, two steals).

Carter Billingsley made a three-pointer two minutes into the second half – the Maroons finished 1 for 15 from behind the arc – to tie the game for the first time at 23.

"The second half I thought we did a much better job of attacking seams and flashing guys through," Davis said. "I thought Ducky (Stewart) did a good job in the third quarter of attacking the glass."

The game was tied at 32 heading into the fourth quarter, and that's when Jones finally got things going. After starting 0 for 7 and failing to score, Jones poured in 12 points in the final quarter, including 6 for 6 from the free throw line to help Central go on a 16-4 run to pull away.

"They're a team that hasn't had a lot of adversity this year," Davis said. "This is a team that maybe they expected to beat them and didn't take them seriously and put themselves in a situation where they were down. But they fought back and showed me they have something. I was proud of them."

The Maroons had nice outings off the bench from seniors Jerry Exum and Keith Biggers. Exum had all four Central points in the first quarter and finished with 10 points and four rebounds. The 6-foot-6 Biggers was a big presence underneath in the second half with nine points and nine rebounds, including some great outlet passes to ignite the fast break.

Despite a great first half, the Vikings couldn't carry their momentum after the break.

"We were able to control the tempo in the first half, and our guys got some confidence," Danville coach Gary Tidwell said. "The first half was outstanding.

"In the second half we broke down offensively. They picked up the pressure defensively, and we had some costly turnovers that allowed them to get some easy buckets."

The Maroons now have their eyes set on the title at the Great Florida Shootout, where they lost in the title game last year.

The team leaves Tuesday and plays Osceola (Kissimmee, Fla.), at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

"We feel like we can win it this year," Stewart said. "We're the No. 2 seed, and teams are going to be after us. But we feel like we're going to win this tournament."