Lehmann, Culver spark Maroons, set up showdown
CHAMPAIGN – Scott Davis held tryouts Monday at Combes Gymnasium, but he wasn't seeking more players for his state-ranked Class 3A boys' basketball team.
Davis was letting his athletes determine who would participate in the IHSA three-point shootout with a team contest open to all varsity players. The winners were Carter Billingsley, Jerry Exum, Chris Lehmann and Jake Slesinski.
Two days later, there was another winner among the Maroons: Zander Culver, who led his team to an 88-47 victory.
He didn't qualify for the pregame shooting contest and he understood why.
"We have a lot of good spot shooters on the team," Culver said.
Once the regional semifinal against Danville started, there were none better than Culver. On the way to a game-high 21 points, he nailed 4-of-4 three-point tries as part of his 14-point opening-period outburst.
Culver and Lehmann teamed up for 15 of the Maroons' first 19 points as Central built an 11-point lead after 5:31 in the Centennial High School gymnasium. At no time during the final three quarters could Danville cut its deficit to fewer than 11 points.
Culver was 0 for 6 Saturday when the Maroons and Vikings played in their regular season finale. He wasn't expecting a turnaround like he saw.
"I've never played like that before," said Culver, who had only scored in double figures in seven games before Wednesday.
Lehmann, who learned Tuesday he'd be in the starting lineup, was one of six Maroons to score at least nine points.
"When I told him he'd be starting, he said, 'Thank you,' " Davis related. "I told him, 'Don't thank me. You earned it.' "
The efforts of the unheralded duo was especially significant against a Danville team that had the mind-set of containing Central leaders Verdell Jones and Donald Stewart.
"Culver was a surprise," Danville coach Gary Tidwell said. "He had the hot hand and got them off to a great start.
"They dominated us in all phases. They have a lot of high-profile athletes who are fun to watch."
Danville (12-16) scored first on Collis Lillard's only basket, but 19 seconds later Culver's first three-pointer started the Maroons' runaway.
"Coach has been telling me to keep on shooting. This is a new season," Culver said.
Davis wanted others to see what he knows Culver can do.
"The problem we present teams is that our points can come from so many places," he said.
Culver has started a majority of the Maroons' games but is not generally the first scoring threat. His previous high game was 15 points, and he had a 6.8 season scoring average.
"Zander is quick and a great on-the-ball defender," Davis said. "He was giving (Mario) Crosby (Danville point guard) fits."
Culver wasn't the only Maroon who stood out defensively. Danville's Mikel Brigham led the Vikings with 12 points, but he was scoreless in the second and fourth quarters.
"Chris did a good job on Brigham," Davis said. "He screens people off the boards. We know he won't be a huge scorer, but we need guys to set screens."
Jones had 14 points, eight assists and eight rebounds for the Maroons, who also received 11 points from Stewart.
Keith Biggers, like Lehmann, scored nine points. Biggers hauled down 12 rebounds.
After being outrebounded 8-2 in the first quarter, Central went to the boards aggressively to finish with a 45-27 rebounding edge, including a 34-13 second-half margin.
Wednesday's outcome set up a third meeting between state-ranked, 20-win Central and Centennial teams in Friday's title game.
"It seems to be what everybody has wanted," said Davis, referring to the public banter that has surrounded what was previously only a possibility of a showdown to break the 1-1 season series.