Boys basketball: Chargers' Alexander proves to be Mr. Clutch

Two schools that swapped 20-point regular season wins started the Class 3A Rantoul Regional Monday with a one-point decision.

Centennial topped Urbana 55-54 thanks to a three-pointer by Taylen Alexander with 15.7 seconds left that created the final score.

Alexander’s basket from the left baseline gave the Chargers (12-16) their second lead against an Urbana team that hit the game’s first eight points and had trailed for just 26 seconds.

“We had a horrible start,” Alexander said. “We weren’t ready for the energy they brought.”

Until hitting the first game-winner of his varsity career, Alexander wasn’t the game’s hotshot. He was 2 of 8 from the field.

“He took some shots that were rushed and some he probably shouldn’t have taken,” Centennial coach Tim Lavin said, “but that’s a senior stepping up at a huge time.”

Out of timeouts, Lavin yelled in a play. Option one was for Devin Carter to drive to the basket.

“They double-teamed him, and he hit me for an open shot,” the 6-foot-5 Alexander said.

The Tigers’ aggressiveness early was reflected in five rebound baskets — from four different players — in the first 17 minutes.

“What I said to the boys was that we controlled the game for the whole time,” Urbana coach Vashoune Russell said. “For 31 minutes, we controlled the game. We gambled on defense and left him open for a shot. In hindsight, is that the shot you want to give up? Yeah, it is.”

A key turning point occurred with 4:23 remaining in the third quarter and Urbana holding a 35-20 lead. The Tigers forced a 10-second violation on Centennial, but instead of getting the ball out of bounds, Donald McKinley was assessed a technical foul for celebrating.

“I don’t understand the call,” Russell said. “He was excited. It wasn’t a celebration.”

Michael Finke hit the two free throws the Chargers were awarded and, after taking the ball out of bounds, Carter scored on a penetration move to the basket.

Phillip Wright, held scoreless the first 20 minutes, scored 10 of his team-high 14 points for the Chargers in the final 5:51. Alexander and Finke each had 11 points. Carter totaled 10 points.

Michael Franklin came off the bench to lead Urbana (12-13) with 17 points and eight rebounds. McKinley scored 14 points.

“This was the most exciting win we’ve had in a long time, especially for where it is in the season,” Lavin said.
fkroner@news-gazette.com

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