Central suffers heartbreaking season-ending loss

Central suffers heartbreaking season-ending loss

DECATUR — Twenty-six seconds was all that separated Champaign Central boys' basketball from getting a life-sized monkey off its back.

Twenty-six seconds was all it would take for the Maroons to dispose of Springfield Lanphier for the first time in the last three sectional semifinals. It's all that was required for Central to move a step closer to its first state berth since 2008 and a trip to Peoria.

Then, Cardell McGee happened.

Herb McMath happened, too.

In the blink of an eye Tuesday, the Maroons went from Class 3A Decatur Eisenhower Sectional finalists to another heartbreaking setback.

McGee tallied five points to tie the contest with 5.7 remaining in regulation, McMath sunk a pair of free throws with 2.6 seconds left in the second overtime and Central suffered a 71-69 setback to conclude its season on this stage of the postseason for the third consecutive year.

"Kind of surreal," Maroons coach Jeff Finke said. "We got beat. Just a small stretch there where it still doesn't feel like it really happened. But it happened."

Central (20-9) wasn't in cruise control the entire night against Lanphier (26-3), but the Maroons dictated the action more often that not.

Twelve first-half points from senior A'Kieon Gill, as well as a 17-11 rebounding edge, helped Central to a 34-23 halftime advantage. And each time the Lions inched within a single basket during the third and fourth periods, the Maroons would find a response from Gill or fellow senior Tim Finke.

"Yeah, we had it," Tim Finke said. "I don't know what happened. I thought we had it rolling for quite some time, and then just basically that last minute or two killed us."

Central struggled to contain 6-foot-6 junior McMath in the paint all night. Finke was tasked with containing senior point guard McGee, and while McGee was limited to just four points entering the last minute of regulation, McMath was rolling to 16 points over the first 32 minutes.

"You know what? We play next man up," Lanphier coach Blake Turner said. "Herbie started in the season early on. He's been a big part of what we've done. When you have a program like ours, you go deep."

But it ultimately came down to McGee finding his stroke at the worst possible time for Central. His team trailing 56-51 with 26 seconds left, McGee nailed a triple from the far corner before the Maroons rushed their next offensive play.

It opened the door for McGee to bank a running, floating layup on the ensuing possession, knotting the tilt at 56 and sending the Lions' supporters into hysterics.

The Maroons came out fighting in the first overtime, though, despite keeping most of their starters on the floor as often as possible. Freshman Khailieo Terry slammed home a pair of dunks to give Central some early momentum, but Lanphier turned things right back around to force another extra period at 62-all.

"I think we got (the starters) all a little bit of a break in the first half," Jeff Finke said. "But they're used to playing. That extra eight minutes we played ... they were gassed, but their team was playing, too, so it was kind of an even deal. Our conditioning was right there."

Things didn't go quite as well for the Maroons in double-overtime, but they still found a way to stick around. Even after committing a pair of turnovers, Central trailed just 69-66 when senior Jonte Coleman buried a three-pointer with 12.2 seconds left.

That was when McMath struck again, getting open in the post and drawing contact. Two converted free throws later, and the Lions had the final push they needed to stave off the Maroons.

"After the first free throw I made, the whole crowd just went crazy," said McMath, who finished with a game-high 20 points despite averaging just 6.2 entering this showdown. "That gave me a lot of confidence on the second one."

A fiery recent history between Central and Lanphier pushed Tuesday's atmosphere to another level. Turner addressed "all the talking that (Central) did" after his team's victory, which saw McGee add 16 points, junior Larry Hemingway generate 13 and senior James Jones contribute 11.

Turner brushed off the Maroons as a true rival despite the Lions meeting them in three straight sectional semifinals.

"When it's a rivalry, the other team wins sometimes. That's not happening here," Turner said. "We dominate them. They're just another opponent on our schedule that we look forward to beating."

Jeff Finke said any pregame chatter is "not who we are." The third-year coach also didn't feel his Maroons, who received 20 points apiece from Tim Finke and Gill, 12 from Terry and 11 from Coleman, were psyched out by their checkered past with Lanphier.

Future Grand Canyon athlete Tim Finke shared that sentiment. And as the Maroons abruptly went from a near-lock for Friday's sectional title bout to another postseason casualty, the younger Finke tried to understand how his third and final season at Central had ended short of Peoria.

"It doesn't really feel real that it's done," he said. "High school basketball is over. It sucks. It was a great game. It just hurts, hurts real bad right now."

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bking266 wrote on March 07, 2018 at 2:03 pm

What a total lack of class from the Lanphier coach.