CHAMPAIGN — Michael Finke had five points at halftime.
Yet the Urbana boys’ basketball team elected to throw a box-and-one defense at the Centennial big man and Illinois commit to start the third quarter.
Dedric Byrd, Phillip Wright and Mike McCray made sure Urbana coach Vashoune Russell’s move backfired Friday night.
Centennial emerged with a 64-58 win in front of an estimated 1,200 spectators during the Class 3A Centennial Regional championship game. The trio was a key reason why Centennial was able to hold off a late rally by the Tigers in an emotional fourth quarter.
“I honestly thought they were going to do it from the beginning of the game, but when I wasn’t scoring in the first half it kind of shocked me a little bit,” said Finke, who finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds, including four critical free throws in the final 25 seconds. “A lot of people stepped up for us, and it was a lot of fun.”
Centennial only led 29-27 at halftime after a second quarter produced 12 lead changes. By the time Wright (13 points, eight rebounds) finished a traditional three-point play with 2.3 seconds remaining in the third quarter, the Chargers (21-8) led 50-35.
“Being the Illinois commit that he is, of course all the teams are going to focus on him,” Wright said of his teammate. “But then they’ve got to worry about the other players. They weren’t worried about me sneaking in for a few baskets.”
Byrd tied Urbana guard Donald McKinley for game-high scoring honors with 22 points, but Byrd did so on 8-of-12 shooting compared with 10-of-21 shooting by McKinley.
“I knew I had to step up and take Michael’s place,” Byrd said. “I tried to attack the basket more, and my shot was falling. I was ready to play since the beginning of school. I just had my mind-set to go out and play my hardest.”
McCray gave the Chargers an unexpected lift off the bench. The senior had 11 points on 3-of-3 shooting from three-point range.
“Coach has confidence in me, and my team believes in me,” McCray said. “When I get hot, I just get hot.”
The Chargers won their fourth regional championship in the last five years and proved they have capable parts besides Finke.
“We knew as long as Finke screened and flashed, and we kept moving, the middle would be open,” Centennial coach Tim Lavin said. “If they collapsed, we knew the wing would be open, and (Byrd) had a fantastic game. He didn’t play well last time (against Urbana), and he was awesome.”
Urbana, vying for its first regional championship since 1989, received 18 points and nine rebounds from junior Marcus Catchings off the bench. A technical foul on Urbana’s Michael Thompson with less than three minutes left prompted an ejection of Thompson after officials deemed he threw a punch at Byrd, increasing Centennial’s lead to 57-48. The Tigers responded with a 9-3 run to cut their deficit to 60-56 with 50.5 seconds left, but Russell thought the technical foul turned the game.
Russell was less than pleased with the officiating afterward.
“We played like men tonight,” he said. “We showed a lot of class, and the toughest part is when certain players get away with certain things. I find it hard to coach against those things. I thought what the referee saw was my kid protecting himself, but yet he thought it was my kid retaliating. We had to fight and claw versus these quote unquote Division I players, and it’s tough. At this point, I’m truly getting sick of it. I want to come out and actually see a level playing field and allow these kids to play the game. I want some respect, and I think this program has earned it.”
Start of something big?
Centennial won its sixth regional championship during coach Tim Lavin’s tenure Friday, setting up a date on Tuesday against Taylorville at Mount Zion in a Class 3A sectional semifinal game. Here’s a look at how the other five have panned out with Lavin at the helm:
Year Regional title game
2011 Beat Urbana 63-59
Lost 49-31 to Morton in sectional semifinal
2010 Beat Central 47-36
Lost 73-59 to Chicago Marshall in third-place game
2009 Beat Urbana 87-49
Beat Oswego 61-59 in state championship game
2005 Beat Central 51-47
Lost 47-27 to Lincoln in sectional semifinal
2004 Beat M-S 48-43
Lost 61-54 to Mount Zion in sectional semifinal