Vikings extend streak despite Chargers' challenge

Vikings extend streak despite Chargers' challenge

DANVILLE — Postseason basketball can be a fickle and unpredictable creature. Centennial's boys walked into Danville High School on Tuesday having played less than 24 hours prior. The Chargers still were missing two players for undisclosed reasons, and they were matching up not only with the host team, but also a Vikings squad ranked fourth in Class 4A by the Associated Press.

Oh, and there was the matter of Centennial dropping two regular-season tilts to Danville by a combined 78 points.

A perfect storm for the Vikings to cruise into their own 4A regional final? Think again.

Danville got the job done, posting a 60-50 victory over its Big 12 Conference enemy thanks to seniors Day'len Davis-Williams and Julian Pearl potting 20 and 14 points, respectively.

But for the Vikings (26-2), their 16th consecutive win was no coronation.

"I didn't enjoy it while it was going on. It was my worst fear that they'd come out and do that," Danville coach Ted Houpt said of Centennial (15-12) keeping the result within four points until there was 1:16 to play. "But now that it's done, I'm thinking they might've done us a favor, because that's the kind of test you need. If we had won by 30 points, I don't think that would've helped us. It might've helped my stomach or something."

That organ had to be churning within each Viking all night as the Chargers declined to lay down in a matchup of the regional's No. 1 and No. 7 seeds.

Junior Bryson Cowper finished with 20 points for Centennial, while senior Tommy Makabu added 15 and sophomore Spencer Evans contributed 10. The Chargers never led, but they stuck within single digits for the majority of the contest.

"Effort was tremendous," Centennial coach Tim Lavin said. "To lose the way we lost the first two games and to be within four points (late) on their home floor, against a team that's expected to make a big run, I'm super pleased."

Among Lavin's goals for the Chargers on Tuesday was stopping Danville senior standout Kendle Moore and prohibiting second-chance opportunities in the paint.

The former mission was a rousing success, as the Drake signee didn't surpass two points until there was less than five minutes to play. Moore finished with seven points as Cowper draped his elder all night.

"I think Bryson had a good game (Tuesday)," Lavin said. "To hold Kendle to that type of game is pretty good."

Houpt said Moore is dealing with an illness, but the coach also refused to discredit Centennial's defense of the Vikings' leader scorer.

That facet ultimately didn't break Danville, either, The Vikings didn't receive many second-chance bids in the post, but that's because they were converting so many on the first try.

Davis-Williams netted 14 of his points in the first half, while Pearl offered all of his offense over the final 16 minutes.

"We have a few more options," Houpt said. "We try to find a matchup we like or someone that's hot, and we were able to do that (Tuesday) with Day'len."

Given what occurred in the game's first possession, it wasn't a given Davis-Williams would thrive against the Chargers.

Trying to drive into Centennial sophomore Axel Laby, Davis-Williams had a floating shot swatted aside. But the upperclassman didn't back down, using his experience and 6-foot-5 frame to outwork Laby and, later, Chargers senior Jaden Roberts-Thomas.

"It says that he's a three-year starter and captain of the team who's been able to stay with us all year ... through some times where other people were getting some attention," Houpt said. "This is his biggest game of the year when we needed it most. I don't know if we win without him playing that way."

So the Vikings survived and advanced Tuesday, giving them until Friday to regain their form before a regional championship bout against either fourth-seeded Moline or fifth-seeded Normal Community.

If Danville is able to produce an extended postseason run after this ominous start, Houpt may be sending a thank-you card to Lavin.

"We had to play (the Chargers) last year, and I always shake my head," Houpt said. "I'm kind of glad they were able to do that. I think it's going to make us better."