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CHAMPAIGN — Trae Warren sports a large, clean patch of ink on the outside of his upper right arm. It’s visible even when the Centennial senior guard is dashing up and down the basketball court.

The tattoo’s central element, in fact, is a basketball.

“I’ve got the dove on there. The dove is good luck,” Warren said. “Then I’ve got the clouds on there with the ball, with the columns around it. Just to show the basketball and the bird, for good luck.”

It wasn’t only good luck that led Warren and his Chargers teammates to Tuesday night’s 70-53 victory over crosstown rival Champaign Central at the Maroons’ Combes Gymnasium.

It was aggressive defense from coach Tim Lavin’s Centennial squad as soon as the opening tip-off concluded, resulting in coach LeConte Nix’s Central crew committing 29 turnovers.

And it was the scoring combination of senior forward Jack Young Jr. down low and Warren both up top and in the paint that helped the Chargers (8-7) dispatch the Maroons (2-8) in the first of two meetings this season between the frequent foes.

“It means everything. I told everybody before the game, ‘(The seniors) are never going to play in this gym anymore,’” Warren said. “We’re going to see them again in February (at Centennial).”

Warren was one of just four Chargers to score during Tuesday’s game. But all four of those players finished in double figures, led by Warren’s game-high 24 points and Young’s 22 points. Fellow seniors David Hubbard and Jalen Coleman each added 12 points for Centennial, which has beat three of its first four Big 12 Conference opponents.

“For the most part I was happy with our defense,” Lavin said. “We’ve got to learn from this game. We can look pretty good at times, but at times not so good. But we’ve just got to be disciplined in what we’re doing.”

That accurately described the Chargers for most of the first half.

They turned over the ball just six times to Central’s 15 miscues, and a Hubbard three-pointer midway through the opening quarter gave Centennial a 10-8 lead as well as an advantage it would never relinquish the rest of the night.

Young was the Chargers’ go-to scorer in the first eight minutes, racking up nine points as the Maroons struggled to find an answer for the 6-foot-5 athlete.

“He hurt us a lot. Because of his strength and size, he hurt us,” Nix said. “We’ve got to prepare better for next time. ... We’ll be ready.”

Young’s frontcourt presence opened things up offensively for others in Centennial’s rotation. Warren was the chief benefactor, netting 12 points in the second quarter alone as the Chargers went into halftime leading 37-23.

“Sometimes (Warren plays with) too much of a swagger trying to do too much, but what I was really happy about was he had 10 assists,” Lavin said. “That’s kind of what I’m looking for. We need him to score, but we also need him to distribute the ball and he did a good job of that.”

The Maroons displayed a scrappiness, however, that kept them within striking distance for large chunks of the second half. They rushed Centennial into eight third-quarter turnovers and pulled within five points on multiple occasions, the last at 53-48 with about five minutes remaining in regulation.

“We’re getting better,” Nix said. “It’s just playing and practicing. It’s just coming out ready to play from the jump. ... We got gassed a little bit and started making the same mistakes we’ve been making all year.”

The Chargers finally created some solid separation with a six-point spurt to lunge ahead 59-48. Four of those points came from Coleman, who amassed eight of his points in the fourth period.

And Warren provided the exclamation mark with a pair of steals that he converted into uncontested layups during the final minute of play.

“We said, ‘Play defense and the points are going to come from playing defense,’” Warren said. “Third quarter we kind of stopped playing defense as good as we were, but we got it back right the fourth quarter.”

Central’s attack was paced by freshman Chris Bush, who connected three times from beyond the three-point arc on his way to 14 points. The 6-5 high school newcomer often was tasked with trying to guard Young as Nix lacked a consistent older option in the role.

Seniors Dwayne Hubbard (13 points) and Tashawn Butler (12 points) also reached double figures scoring for the Maroons, and senior A.J. Williams (nine points) narrowly missed that plateau.

“It’s going to continue to get better and better every game,” Nix said. “Hats off to Centennial. They played better, played harder (and) they deserved to win.”

Lavin is hoping this victory gives his Chargers a little extra energy leading into a Friday-Saturday road doubleheader against Bloomington and Morton.

“I’m proud that we answered the call on (Central’s) home court,” Lavin said. “Hopefully we’ll go take this win and it’ll kind of get us going. It doesn’t get any easier in the Big 12.”

Colin Likas is the preps coordinator at The News-Gazette. He can be reached at clikas@news-gazette.com, or on Twitter at @clikasNG.

College/Prep Sports Reporter

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

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