Centennial hustles way to win
CHAMPAIGN — This is what defines great basketball players: They don’t coast. They play coast-to-coast.
Centennial’s Michael Finke showed Friday night why he belongs in the elite group of high school players.
It wasn’t so much the game-high 22 points he scored against Urbana. Nor was it the game-high 13 rebounds he grabbed to spark the Chargers to a 55-42 triumph against the visitors.
Finke’s symbolic play occurred as the clock neared the four-minute mark of the fourth quarter in a game Centennial (7-3) led at the time by three points. Teammate Terrion Howard was leading a 2-on-1 break. Another Charger, Khalil Toombs, was a step behind. Howard passed back to Toombs, but the shot was missed.
Finke, a UI signee, never assumed the ball was destined for the basket. He didn’t stop at halfcourt to catch his breath. He didn’t jog a few steps to conserve energy.
He came on the scene full speed, crashed the boards, grabbed the ball and scored on a putback.
“That’s a lot of the reason teams first started recruiting me,” Finke said. “That’s how I play. They know I’ll hustle. What’s the point of playing if you’re not going hard? I never give up. You never know when a play is over.”
It was one play on a night in which the Big 12 Conference teams were tied in every quarter and traded leads in each period. With a 13-point margin on the scoreboard when the final buzzer sounded, it may not have been the difference-maker, but it epitomized the difference in the Chargers in the two halves.
The halftime score was 26-26.
“Our energy the second half was unbelievable,” Chargers coach Tim Lavin said. “We got up and down the floor and had a good team effort.
“Michael likes to run the floor. That’s how he is, but we all fed off of each other’s energy in the second half.”
Dedric Byrd joined Finke in double figures with 11 points. Urbana leaders Greg Boyd and Shimaaz Ivy scored 11 points apiece. Conner Gremer had 10 rebounds.
The Tigers (4-4) hung with the Chargers until a one-basket fourth quarter proved too much of an obstacle to overcome.
“We went cold at the wrong time,” Urbana coach Vashoune Russell said. “They did nothing to beat us. We beat ourselves.
“We were trying to press, but it seems in this conference officials are not used to teams pressing and get caught up watching. There were 10-second calls at least three times that weren’t called.”
With Howard and Byrd sharing the ball-handling duties, Centennial kept its turnover count to nine. The Tigers had 15, with 10 occurring in the second half.
“If we get through (the press) and don’t turn it over, that gives us more opportunities,” Lavin said.
The Chargers needed the chances. For the night, the team was 0 for 12 on three-point tries and — excluding Howard’s 6-for-6 accuracy from the foul line — the team was 5 for 12 on free throws.
The difference, Russell agreed, was hustle points.
“We talked about winning the 50-50 balls, and we definitely lost that,” Russell said. “We have to find that extra gear and get after the ball. We didn’t do that.”
Thanks to Finke, it was game, set, point for the Chargers, who regrouped from a three-overtime loss one week earlier to another local rival (Central).
“We had that game at Central,” Finke said. “(Friday night) when it was close for a few minutes in the fourth quarter (Urbana led 39-38 with 5:50 to play), we kept working, hit free throws and didn’t give up.”
Big 12 standings
TEAM CONF. All
Bloomington 4-0 4-3
Centennial 4-1 7-3
Central 2-1 4-3
Normal Community 3-2 4-3
Urbana 2-2 4-4
Danville 2-2 3-5
MacArthur 1-3 4-4
Eisenhower 0-3 1-5
Normal West 0-4 0-6
Centennial 55, Urbana 42
Central 51, MacArthur 50
Eisenhower at Normal West, ppd.
Richwoods at Danville
Rock Island at Bloomington