DANVILLE — The name game with Centennial boys’ basketball starts with Michael Finke and Dedric Byrd.
There’s good reason.
As juniors last season, each earned All-Area first-team accolades. Finke recently signed a letter of intent to continue his career at the University of Illinois.
They aren’t the only Centennial names with game.
Junior Steven Lee — two games into his varsity basketball career — is showing signs of being an impact player like he was in football when he led the Chargers in receiving yards and was first in the area in receptions.
The 6-foot-4 Lee made 4 of 4 shots in the middle two quarters on Wednesday as Centennial (1-1) pulled away from Danville (0-2) to open Big 12 Conference play with a 69-58 victory.
The game — played on the Vikings’ court — was part of the Lincoln Eaton Tournament.
Lee’s baskets came at key times. He created a 25-25 tie with 2 minutes, 7 seconds left in the first half and then lifted the Chargers into the lead for good, 38-36, on a drive to the basket with 3:39 to go in the third period.
“Steven has been a very pleasant surprise,” Centennial coach Tim Lavin said.
Lee was out for basketball as a sophomore, but a knee injury sidelined him much of the first half of the season and, Lavin said, “he was never fully back.”
During the offseason, Lee’s top priority was football.
Lavin wasn’t even certain if he’d returned to basketball this winter.
“He decided late to come out,” Lavin said. “He’s a good athlete, and he wants to learn.”
Jeff Hasenstab, one of Centennial’s football assistants, offered Lee a piece of advice as he was making his decision.
“Jeff told him, ‘If you go out, give 100 percent,’” Lavin said.
The message was taken to heart.
“He goes hard every day and brings us a physical presence,” Lavin said. “He does a little bit of everything.”
Centennial needed more than the reliability of Finke, who put up a double-double, and Byrd, who directed an offense that limited its turnover count to eight.
“It’s two guys with varsity experience and no one else,” Lavin said. “Our effort has been great and our shooting will come around.”
Despite struggling early (1 for 6 in the first 11 minutes), Finke hit a game-high 24 points and hauled down 12 rebounds. He hit 8 of 8 fourth-quarter free throws.
“We got the lead and kept the lead when they fouled us at the end,” Lavin said. “That’s a good sign early in the year.”
Byrd scored 14 points. Junior Kyree Sago scored 11 points, six in the final quarter. Khalil Toombs helped Centennial overcome an early 6-2 deficit by draining back-to-back three-pointers as the Chargers pulled into an 8-8 deadlock. Lee ended with eight points.
Denzel Smith and Jarhed Watson — each of whom produced double-doubles — helped Danville stay even throughout the first half, which ended with a 29-29 tie. Smith finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds. The 6-6 Watson put up 16 points and 12 rebounds, five on the offensive end.
“He (Watson) shot well in the first game (on Monday), but tonight he was active around the boards and rebounded much better,” Danville coach Ted Houpt said. “We want him to shoot that 15-footer all day. We tell him, ‘Don’t hesitate.’”
Houpt elected to assign 6-1 Victor Askew to the 6-9 Finke throughout much of the first half, not matching the 6-7 Smith on the Charger all-star until late.
“We didn’t want Denzel on him early for fear of fouls,” Houpt said. “Victor battled well. He’s a fighter, and our top defensive player. He made him (Finke) work.
“We need to get everyone focused on defense like Victor. He’s a tough kid.”
Smith hit the Vikings’ only three-pointer in the second quarter. Danville shot just six free throws and none came in the final 13:18.
“We’ve got work to do,” Houpt said. “They were the better team and the better-coached team. They play well together and they’re also talented. We have to be more determined to do the little things like a lot of people we play do.”
Danville’s Kylen Butler scored 10 points, six in the last 5:30. The final Viking lead, 36-34, was reached after a free throw by Kemony Lester with 5:19 remaining in the third quarter.
A breakaway by Terrion Howard then started a 6-0 Charger run and Centennial never relinquished the lead.
“They’re a quick team, but we have to do a better job of making them hit tougher shots,” Houpt said.
Both Danville and Centennial return to action on Friday at Lincoln High School. The Chargers play Morton at 5 p.m. Danville faces Cahokia in the 6:30 p.m. game.