CHAMPAIGN — Mike McCray is easy to spot on the basketball court.
The long-sleeve undershirt he wears underneath his Centennial jersey is why.
Add his outside shooting to the list.
Prior to Friday’s 64-58 Class 3A regional championship victory against Urbana on the Chargers’ home court, McCray had not wowed anyone with his outside shooting.
The guard had made only 8 of 31 (26 percent) from three-point range.
Consider those numbers vastly improved after the shooting clinic he put on against Urbana. The senior reserve made all three of his three-point shots against Urbana to bump his season percentage six points in one game. His 11 points against Urbana accounted for all of Centennial’s bench production and made up for a combined two points from starters Jeffrey Lavin and Dustin Walls.
“Oh, my gosh, when he hit those first two threes, that was huge for us,” Centennial forward Michael Finke said of McCray’s two three-pointers in the second quarter that helped Centennial keep pace with Urbana. “When he hits those shots from outside, it’s so much fun.”
A month ago, McCray didn’t factor much into Centennial’s rotation. Neither did senior forward Phillip Wright. Now, both seniors are coming off double-digit scoring performances for the Chargers (21-8), who are back in the sectional semifinals for the fourth time in the last five years.
“Phillip has finally found his groove,” McCray said with a laugh. “He’s a great player. When he goes, we go. It’s that simple.”
Taylorville (18-15) — which is playing in a sectional semifinal for the first time since 2002 and endured a 2-87 record the last three seasons — will most likely focus much of its defensive efforts on Finke. But McCray’s strong game against Urbana proved Finke isn’t the only Michael the Tornadoes will have to contend with.
“He got some open jump shots and took advantage of it,” Centennial coach Tim Lavin said. “That was a big lift for us.”
Three storylines to watch
Who will come away with a win in the Centennial-Taylorville game isn’t the only aspect to watch in the Class 3A and 4A sectional semifinals tonight and Wednesday across the state. Staff writer Matt Daniels examines three others:
Go see Argo
The drama that will unfold during these two games at Argo High School makes for an easy Ben Affleck script. Three teams: Simeon, Curie and Whitney Young. All three schools, along with upset-minded DuSable, will try to lay claim to the best 4A school in Chicago by the time Friday night arrives. Future Division I players in Jabari Parker, Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate of Simeon, along with the talented junior class of Whitney Young’s Jahlil Okafor, L.J. Peak and Paul White, not to mention Curie big man Cliff Alexander, will make tickets for this sectional harder to come by than Affleck’s Oscar winner.
Four years ago, Oswego played up the us-against-the-world card en route to advancing to the Class 3A state championship game against Centennial. Now up to 4A, the Panthers are led by senior guard Miles Simelton and Elliot McGaughy. Coach Kevin Schnable’s squad has the talent to play in Peoria but first will have to get by coaching legend Gordie Kerkman and his West Aurora squad tonight in Aaron Bailey’s hometown (otherwise known as Bolingbrook).
Don’t be shocked if Chicago Morgan Park gets a run for the 3A state title from one of the schools at the Mascoutah Sectional. Cahokia, ranked fourth in the final Associated Press poll, tangles with Carbondale tonight; East St. Louis, which checked in fifth in the final AP rankings, squares off against Centralia on Wednesday.