Central, Centennial to renew rivalry in title game
RANTOUL — When it comes to the Battle of Champaign, two skirmishes a season seemingly never are enough.
For the eighth consecutive year, Champaign Central and Centennial will carry their ever-entertaining rivalry into the postseason.
One night after the Chargers stamped their ticket to the title game of the Class 3A Rantoul Regional, the Maroons did likewise Wednesday night with a 63-45 semifinal victory against Mahomet-Seymour.
“This is going to be a good game,” Central senior guard Chris Freeman said. “We’re both fighting for something we both want.”
That, of course, would be a regional championship. Nothing new about that. For the seventh time in eight years, that’s what will be at stake when Centennial and Central renew their postseason argument at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
The crosstown rivals split their two Big 12 Conference games during the regular season.
“It’s going to be a lot of intensity,” Freeman said. “The fans are going to be crazy.”
Central (17-10) experienced a crazily uneven performance in advancing to the final.
The Maroons were dominant in the second quarter in rolling to a 34-15 halftime lead. Central hit 10 of 14 shots while outscoring the Bulldogs 21-6 in the period. Meanwhile, M-S missed 17 of 19 shots.
“In the second quarter, they just got away from us and we couldn’t stop the bleeding,” Bulldogs coach Chad Benedict said. “I thought our offense affected our defense. We quit guarding and they just got whatever they wanted.”
In preparing for the Bulldogs, Central coach Scott Davis stressed the need for the Maroons to extend their defensive pressure in the half-court.
“You cannot let Mahomet run their stuff,” he said. “Mahomet’s a team that likes to run sets.
“Particularly in the first half, our defensive pressure was outstanding. I thought Mahomet was flustered. They were taking quick shots. We were contesting shots, getting blocks, getting run-outs.”
But M-S (14-14) regrouped after halftime, outscoring the Maroons 19-12 in the third period behind forward Reid Farchmin’s eight points.The Bulldogs, who were limited to six field goals in the first half, shot 8 of 11 in the third quarter while cutting the deficit to 12 points.
“I’m proud of the kids,” Benedict said. “We didn’t hang our heads. It would have been real easy to fold.”
M-S continued to chip away, drawing within 47-38 with 3:21 left on a Brad Herrmann basket.
“Second half, we let down a little bit,” Freeman said. “We’ve got to keep playing hard. We’ve got to stay focused on defense because that was our biggest focus tonight was to pressure the ball.”
Nine points was as close as the Bulldogs would come, however, as Central held firm down the stretch. When M-S was forced to foul with the clock winding down, the Maroons responded with 8-of-10 shooting from the foul line in the final 1:33.
“We kept our composure and finished strong,” Davis said.
Freeman, who scored seven of his nine points in the fourth quarter, was 5 of 6 at the line in the period.
“I was just thinking I’ve got to make these free throws in the clutch,” he said. “Everybody is depending on me right now. I can’t let my team down.”
Sophomore center Jordan Caroline led a balanced Maroons attack with 13 points. Forwards Corvon Butler and Xavier Martin added 12 and 11, respectively. Butler, who was missed Central’s regular-season finale last Friday with a calf-muscle tear, played 26 minutes.
Farchmin finished with a team-high 12 points but took 19 shots in reaching that total. Reserve forward Matt Turner and Farchmin each grabbed a game-high seven rebounds in leading the Bulldogs to a 41-35 edge on the boards.