CHAMPAIGN — Now comes the fun part for Rantoul.
On its home court.
With less than 24 hours to rest.
And no practice.
“It’d be nice to have a day of practice,” Rantoul coach Brett Frerichs said after his Eagles beat Central 47-42 on Monday night in a Class 3A Centennial Regional quarterfinal game, “but we put 100 percent of our time towards Central. We’re going to have to give them a scouting report early (today). On the flip side, we’ll come in here with confidence after a win. That has its advantages also.”
The Eagles (12-16) will meet Centennial (19-8) in a regional semifinal game for the second year in a row. The roles are reversed this postseason.
Rantoul, the fourth seed, had the top seed last year on its home court. The Chargers, this year’s top seed, came in as the fourth seed only to spoil Rantoul’s postseason after one game with a 79-66 victory that happened 364 days ago. Only one Rantoul starter Monday night, junior guard Johnny Jones, however, played in last year’s game.
“It brings back a lot of memories,” said Jones, who led all scorers with 18 points, including 14 in the first half, and added 10 rebounds. “It’d be nice to beat them. We have to come with a lot more energy than we came with today. They’ve got two big guys. We’ve just got to box out.”
Central (5-19) held a 52-42 rebounding advantage Monday night in a game that featured poor shooting by both squads. Since Centennial boasts Illinois commit Michael Finke (6-feet-9) and Luke Vaughn (6-8), and the Eagles have no player taller than 6-2, Jones’ words are especially true.
“It will obviously be a big challenge,” Frerichs said. “We’ll be mismatched on the inside, but with this team we’ve just got to come out, play with some heart and hit some shots early. We have nothing to lose.”
Frerichs said he had not mentioned Centennial to his team prior to Monday night’s win.
“Other than Johnny, they weren’t part of last year’s loss,” Frerichs said. “It’s a chance for us to pay them back.”
Rantoul will have to defend tonight like it did against the Maroons. The Eagles held Central to a tepid 18-of-74 shooting from the field (24 percent), including 3 of 22 (14 percent) from three-point range. Such defense was key after Rantoul’s 39-25 lead in the first minute of the fourth quarter was trimmed to 43-38 with less than three minutes left.
Rantoul guard Talon Hardin — who chipped in seven points and seven rebounds Monday — is an AAU teammate of Finke’s with the Peoria Irish. The 5-11 Hardin, however, most likely won’t find himself guarding Finke too many times tonight.
“He’s tough on the midrange,” Hardin said. “He doesn’t miss many of those. He’s a good shooter with his size. To stop him takes length, and we don’t have that, so we’ve just got to play tough and grind it out.”
Central coach Scott Davis — who had Xavier Martin contribute 16 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Maroons — and his team lost twice to Centennial this season.
“If Centennial shares the ball, they’ll be pretty tough,” Davis said. “Jones is going to have to have a big game, and they’ll have to rebound like they did tonight. It’ll be hard for them.”