Maroons crash party and boards to land KO in Round 1
CHAMPAIGN – You know it as the Battle of Champaign.
To Tim Lavin, it was strictly the Battle of the Boards.
"We talked about it all week," the Centennial basketball coach said. "We talked about it before the game. It was the biggest emphasis on the (dry-erase) board before we came out."
All that talk proved to be prophetic. Painfully prophetic to the Chargers, who were pummeled by rival Champaign Central on the boards and on the scoreboard Friday night at Centennial's packed gym.
"They absolutely destroyed us on the boards," Lavin said after the Maroons rode a resounding 49-26 rebound advantage to an equally decisive 73-51 victory. "We were one (shot) and done, and they just pounded us on the boards."
With both teams ranked in the top 10 in Class 3A, a sellout crowd of 2,300 filled the Chargers' gym in anticipation of the kind of thriller that repeatedly played out last season. But instead another nailbiter – three of the four meetings last season went beyond regulation – the drama was all about Centennial trying to catch up after falling into a 17-5 hole during the first six minutes.
"We kept swinging the ball around looking for the open shot," said forward Jerry Exum, one of seven Maroons to score in the first quarter. "We were patient, patient."
The No. 9 Chargers never did catch No. 5 Central, although they drew within one three times in the second quarter. Centennial was within 46-42 in the third before the Maroons went on a 10-2 run to finish the quarter.
"It seemed like we'd crawl back and crawl back and then we'd make a stop, but we'd give up an offensive rebound," Lavin said.
On a night when Central ruled the boards, no one played a bigger role than Keith Biggers. The 6-foot-5, 275-pound center racked up game highs of 20 points and 11 rebounds.
"He's a lot to handle," Exum (12 points) said of his teammate. "I know first hand from guarding him in practice."
Biggers finished 10 of 18 from the field. He was 6 of 8 in the second half.
"He's had a tendency sometimes when he doesn't get a call or something happens, he lets it bother him," Maroons coach Scott Davis said. "And tonight I thought he did a good job. If he missed it or he didn't get a call, he kept playing."
Despite foul trouble, Maroons point guard Verdell Jones also finished with a double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds). Donald Stewart and Patrick Wampler, each with nine boards, also contributed to Central's dominance of the glass.