Finke helps Chargers hold off rival
CHAMPAIGN — The first time the Centennial and Central boys’ basketball teams played, the winning Maroons scored 80 points.
In Friday night’s rematch, the teams hit 100.
Centennial evened the season series with a 57-43 verdict against the Maroons in the Chargers’ loud and lively gymnasium in a Big 12 Conference game that drew 2,000 spectators.
One of the turning points occurred before the teams had combined to put two dozen points on the scoreboard.
Centennial’s Kasey Elam-Carter threw down two monstrous dunks within a 14-second span — the first on a rebound effort and the second on a lob off the backboard from Terrion Howard. His baskets capped a 13-0 Centennial run and lifted the home team into a 13-2 lead.
“Kasey’s one of the most athletic guys in central Illinois,” said teammate Michael Finke, who had game-high totals of 26 points and 12 rebounds. “He does it all.”
The flurry fueled an already-frenzied student section for Centennial.
“I’m really not thrilled with the off-the-backboard part, but the fans loved it and it gave us a lot of adrenaline,” Chargers coach Tim Lavin said. “That got Kasey going, the fans going and it got us going.
“Kasey’s a heck of an athlete who can do some pretty good things. He shows glimpses of being really, really good.”
After scoring the game’s first basket, Central never led again after Howard’s three-pointer put Centennial in command, 4-2. By the time the game was 10 minutes old, the Big 12-leading Chargers built their lead to 21-6.
“It looked like at the beginning they were going to dominate us,” Central coach Wayne McClain said.
His players would have none of that.
When Central’s Dominique Brize nailed a three-pointer at the 6:56 mark of the fourth quarter, the Maroons had cut their deficit to 39-38.
“We had a few rough spots here and there, but we finished it off strong,” Finke said.
Specifically, the 6-foot-9 Finke finished strong.
He scored 12 of his points after Central drew within a point.
“That’s Michael being Michael,” Lavin said. “He’s a heck of a player, and that’s why he’s going to the UI. It’s his senior year versus the crosstown rivals. He wanted the ball.”
Finke started a 10-0 Centennial scoring spree with a drive to the basket and two free throws.
It wasn’t by accident that Finke stepped up down the stretch.
“I’ve been hearing about it from fans and friends and everything since the night we lost,” he said. “I told everyone I wasn’t gonna let us lose. So I tried to put the team on my back, and we came out working hard. They made a run, we tried not to panic. We made plays when we needed them. It was a good win.”
During the last 41/2 minutes, Central was unable to get closer than nine points.
“We fought back and did a good job getting back in the game, then we took a couple of ill-advised shots,” McClain said. “Obviously, they got off to a great start and (from there) you want to give yourselves a fighting chance, and we did that.
“Hopefully we’ll see them again (in the postseason).”
The odds are in Central’s favor of a game that will break the season deadlock between the Unit 4 rivals. In 14 of the past 18 years, the schools have met at least three times in a season.
In the last 55 games in the city series, the Maroons hold a 29-26 edge in games won.
Lavin said Centennial was able to reverse its fortunes based on executing the game plan.
“We talked offensively of getting it to the post and defensively of challenging shots and keeping them from driving,” Lavin said. “We did a much better job of challenging shots and we limited our turnovers, which was big.
“They spent a lot of energy getting back into it. I’m proud that we kept our composure and outscored them 18-5 after that.”
In the December game when Centennial lost in triple overtime, it committed 24 turnovers. In Friday’s rematch, the Chargers had 15 lost balls and just six in the second half.
“Last game, we weren’t ready,” Elam-Carter said. “I was very pleased the way we played (Friday night).”
Centennial had nearly a 3-to-1 edge on first-half rebounds (20-7) and finished with a 34-21 cushion on the boards. Elam-Carter grabbed 10.
“When you have 6-7 in Kasey, 6-4 in Steven (Lee), I’m 6-9. It’s hard to outrebound us,” Finke said. “It’s all effort. We’ve gotta go for the boards, and we’ve gotta grab those.”
Finke was the lone Charger in double figures. Khalil Toombs had eight points to go with five rebounds.
Central’s leaders were Kameron Rowan with 10 points and Isiah Smith with seven rebounds.
Centennial has a one-game lead over Big 12 runner-up Bloomington in the loss column. Lavin likes his team’s position.
“I’m happy we’re there,” he said, “but there’s still a long ways to go. We still have to go to Bloomington yet.”
WDWS’ Brian Moline contributed to this report.