RANTOUL — Jermale Young’s mind was made up Wednesday night once the clock dipped below 20 seconds.
Below 15. Below 10. Below 5.
His Tigers boys’ basketball teammates wouldn’t have it any other way.
Young played hero for the second consecutive postseason, sinking a spinning jump shot from the free-throw line as time expired to propel third-seeded Urbana past fifth-seeded Centennial 47-45 in a thrilling, back-and-forth Class 3A Rantoul Regional semifinal game.
This ice water-in-the-veins moment happened a little more than one year after Young drilled a buzzer-beating three-pointer in a regional championship win against Effingham, allowing the Tigers to secure their first piece of IHSA hardware in 30 years.
“The one last year was better,” Young said Wednesday. “It’s hard to beat a team three times, but once you’re better than them, it’s not really hard.”
The Chargers (17-14) made it especially difficult for Urbana (17-14) to add another triumph over Centennial during the 2019-2020 ledger. The outcome was 59-47 in favor of the Tigers on Dec. 10, then 66-60 on Jan. 24.
“That’s all the confidence on our side,” said Young, who finished with 10 points on Wednesday night. “But, then again, instead of us being the hunters, we was the hunted.”
Both sides hunted for the upper hand all evening in a see-saw battle.
Urbana went on a 10-0 run after Centennial produced the games’s first three points. The Chargers replied in the second quarter by outscoring the Tigers 13-8 to grab a 25-23 halftime advantage.
Then, each squad used an opposing second-half timeout to craft another rally.
Urbana’s transpired after Centennial pulled ahead 29-28 with 3 minutes, 21 seconds left in the third period, then stopped the clock. The Tigers came out of their huddle with an 8-0 scoring surge.
Again, the Chargers had an answer. It came in the form of a 10-0 wave after Urbana called time up 40-32 with 6:39 remaining in the fourth.
“It was a great game,” Centennial coach Tim Lavin said. “It could’ve gone either way. It’s just a crappy way for us to lose and, I guess, a good way for them to win.”
Urbana coach Verdell Jones Jr. had to guide his boys through the Chargers’ 1-2-2 zone defense, which Young admitted “threw us off a little bit.”
“I don’t want to see Centennial any more this year — and it’s ironic because I work there,” Jones said with a laugh. “But Tim just does such an excellent job with those guys.”
While the Chargers’ typically-stout defense certainly gave Urbana fits — resulting in 15 turnovers and only Young and Bryson Tatum (14 points) hitting double figures — it was the Tigers’ stoppers who found their footing at the best possible time.
After Termarion Howard sank a bid from beyond the arc with 3:08 to play in regulation, Centennial never scored again.
The Tigers didn’t fare much better offensively the rest of the way, mustering just a layup by Mykel Neal and Young’s decisive bucket. But that was enough to keep their postseason hopes alive.
“It was a very competitive game,” Jones said, “and I’m just so glad we got out of this. I’m just so happy.”
The Chargers received a senior-type performance from Axel Laby, who racked up a team-leading 13 points in addition to numerous forceful non-scoring efforts in the paint during his final prep game.
“His last seven or eight games have been fantastic,” Lavin said. “I don’t know what it was that got him going, but he’s been rebounding, scoring — he probably had six, seven, eight blocks (Wednesday). He just had a really good game.”
Amareon Parker’s nine points and Kvion Lott’s eight points also aided Centennial in defeat.
It looked as though the Chargers would be the ones with the last regulation look as well. Parker chased down a missed shot by Urbana’s Deshaun Sanders with less than 30 seconds left, but Tatum forced a tie-up before Centennial could call its desired timeout, and possession remained with the Tigers.
“It was a great defensive effort to get there,” Lavin said. “And even the last play was great defense. (Young) just made a great shot.”
Both Neal and Chris Cross added to the outputs of Tatum and Young by banking five points apiece for Urbana, which now awaits second-seeded Mahomet-Seymour (21-10) at 7 p.m. on Friday for the regional championship game.
The Bulldogs are in the midst of a 10-game win streak that includes a 76-52 rout of the Tigers on Feb. 11.
Given what it took for Urbana to advance this far, the Tigers aren’t calling it quits because of the past.
“We’re going to watch film and fix all our mistakes we had the first time we played them,” Young said. “Trust me, this one’s going to be better.”