Maroons still have big goals in front of them

Maroons still have big goals in front of them

CHAMPAIGN — Tim Finke has played in big games before.

He knows what it's like when the atmosphere is cranked up and the implications are heightened.

The Champaign Central wing will get to experience that once again, along with the rest of his teammates, when the state-ranked Maroons host state-ranked Normal West at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday in a Big 12 showdown with Normal West.

Central (17-7, 8-1) can win at least a share of the Big 12 championship with a victory against the Wildcats (20-6, 7-2). The Maroons, who checked in at No. 10 in the latest Class 3A Associated Press statewide poll, carry a seven-game win streak into Tuesday's game with Normal West, who was tied for fifth in the latest 4A AP poll.

"It should be a good game," Central coach Jeff Finke said.

He's correct.

Normal West features Class of 2019 big man Francis Okoro, an Illinois recruiting target. The 6-foot-9 Okoro also holds offers from Kansas, Missouri, Purdue and Vanderbilt, along with one from Brad Underwood's Illini.

"He's a great athlete," Jeff Finke said. "He runs the floor well. He defends the rim well, especially at the high school level. We have a few thoughts on how we have to defend him and contain him, but he's not the only player they have."

Wherever Okoro is on the floor, Tim Finke will likely be close by. The 6-foot-7 senior, bound for Grand Canyon after his decorated prep career ends, will likely draw the defensive assignment of trying to limit Okoro, while also producing on the offensive end for the Maroons. Central can also rely on 6-5 freshman standout Khailieo Terry, along with a pair of 6-3 senior guards in A'Kieon Gill and Jonte Coleman, for scoring production on what's become a balanced offense.

"We have really, really good team chemistry," Tim Finke said. "That's the biggest thing. We all are really close friends off the court and joke around. That just helps us when we get on the court."

Central is the only team to hand Danville (23-2, 8-1) a Big 12 loss this season when the Maroons defeated the Vikings 76-66 on Dec. 9 in Champaign. If Danville beats Normal Community (20-7, 5-4) and Central wins, both teams will share the Big 12 title. Central hasn't won the league outright since 1999 and Danville hasn't held that distinction since 2001, the last time the Vikings owned any part of a Big 12 title. Central last shared the league crown in 2006.

"We've played really well in conference this year," Tim Finke said. "To be able to get a Big 12 title, that would just prove to us that our hard work is paying off. We pride ourselves on our hard work in practice, and that's translated to a lot of our games."

In Tim Finke's last game at Combes Gym on Feb. 6, he became the all-time leading scorer in Champaign-Urbana history when he dropped 42 points in a win against Peoria Richwoods. He enters Tuesday's game with 1,920 career points.

"I didn't even know what I needed to get the record," he said. "I just went out there and played my game like I always do. They told me after the game. That was a pretty cool experience."

Big 12 standings
Danville    8-1    23-2
Champaign Central    8-1    17-7
Normal West    7-2    20-6
Bloomington    7-2    18-7
Normal Community    5-4    20-7
Centennial    4-5    14-11
Peoria    3-6    8-16
Peoria Manual    3-6    6-15
Peoria Notre Dame    2-7    14-14
Urbana    2-7    8-17
Peoria Richwoods    1-9    12-13

(All tip at 7:30 p.m.)
Normal Community at Danville
Normal West at Champaign Central
Peoria at Bloomington
Peoria Manual at Centennial
Peoria Notre Dame at Urbana