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Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette Centennial's Axel Laby (12) and Manual's Storm Hangen(15) in the first half of a prep basketball game at Centennial in Champaign on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019.Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette Centennial's Axel Laby (12) and Manual's Storm Hangen(15) in the first half of a prep basketball game at Centennial in Champaign on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019.

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CHAMPAIGN — One side of the scoreboard inside Centennial High’s gymnasium on Friday night looked exactly like Chargers coach Tim Lavin hoped it would.

Peoria Manual, the No. 5 team in Class 3A boys’ basketball, posted just 39 points after averaging 58.3 per game entering the Big 12 Conference matchup with Centennial.

“We were hoping to keep it low because we know they like to run and get out and go,” Lavin said. “We thought if we could ... slow the pace that it would be more helpful to us.”

That said ...

“I wish it wasn’t that low-scoring,” Lavin added.

Centennial struggled to fill the baskets after a strong first quarter, ultimately dropping a 39-25 decision to last year’s fourth-place team in Class 3A.

Pee Wee Brown, a reigning Associated Press all-state honorable-mention selection, banked 17 points for the Rams (3-1, 1-0 Big 12), who watched a seven-point lead disappear in the third quarter before dispatching the Chargers (3-2, 0-1) with a strong fourth quarter.

“We had to adjust,” Manual coach Willie Coleman said. “Slow the pace down, try to run a little offense and play within ourselves.”

Centennial’s plan of bottling up the Rams’ offense started well enough, as the Chargers led 10-8 through eight minutes.

The host side was successful pounding the ball in the paint during that stretch, with Axel Laby and Termarion Howard both potting a pair of field goals.

“(The idea was) to get the ball in the middle, attack and dish it out to shooters if they’re open,” said Laby, who finished with a team-best nine points.

Centennial also paced the rebounding battle in the first half, by a 10-7 margin.

The problem: The Chargers couldn’t buy a bucket for large spans after the opening quarter. They scored just two points in the second stanza to enter halftime trailing 18-12.

“We couldn’t hit any outside shots,” Laby said. “We were turning the ball over, and they’re aggressive on defense and we didn’t have any response to that.”

“We tried to get around the post and get weakside help,” Coleman added, “so they weren’t able to direct the pass straight to (Laby).”

Centennial turned a corner offensively midway through the third quarter, pulling off a 7-0 run to tie the tilt at 21. And while Manual found itself with seven fouls committed early in the fourth period, the Chargers weren’t even close to putting the Rams in the bonus.

After Howard missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw opportunity, though, everything seemed to go Manual’s way. That included the board battle, which the Rams won 12-5 in the second half.

“We missed some layups, and then we turned it over and didn’t have a chance to go in (the paint),” Lavin said.

Emaryon Byrd added 13 points for Manual, including a pair of three-pointers after intermission. Centennial’s second-leading point producer was David Laby with eight points, and no Charger outside the Labys recorded more than four points.

Lavin likes what he’s seeing so far from the 6-foot-6 Axel Laby, who’s shouldering more of the scoring load so far this season than he did as a junior thanks to the graduation of Bryson Cowper, Tommy Makabu and Jamonte Williams.

“Axel has, offensively, been a lot more aggressive,” Lavin said. “I like that we’re kind of balanced in our scoring, and hopefully that’ll make it, as the year goes on, more difficult to guard us.”

And perhaps hanging tough with a state-rated opponent will breathe a little extra life into Lavin’s crew as well.

“I hope they understand that we competed right to the end,” Lavin said. “The issue is, the last couple years, we’re not used to winning. These other teams are.”

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).

Prep Sports Coordinator

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).