Maroons cruise past rival Chargers

Jan. 30—CHAMPAIGN — Monday night's girls' basketball game between Centennial and Champaign Central was a long time coming.

It was originally scheduled for Dec. 13 and then rescheduled for Jan. 22. But poor weather last week pushed the game back a week to Monday

And then, fans at Coleman Carrodine Gymnasium had to wait until after 8 p.m. for Monday's game to tip off since Centennial held its senior night festivities before the game.

Centennial seniors Aleah Emers, Ruth Duma, Kamora Christman and Jasmine Yancy were honored as tears filled coach Temara Butler's eyes. This group will hold a special place with Butler, helping the Chargers back to varsity action after playing a primarily JV schedule last season.

"As far as leadership goes with those four seniors, oh my God, it's amazing," Butler said. "Just them being on the court and being inspirational to others is everything. They all bring a different type of leadership, and seeing that is great."

Throw in the fact that Centennial was finally playing crosstown rival Central for the first time of the season, and Butler didn't need to motivate her players.

"They've been waiting on this game the entire year," Butler said. "Not just because it's a crosstown rival, but I think they have a lot of respect for the Central program. We always bring a good crowd out, so they were definitely excited."

Just like the Maroons had a special moment for one of their seniors spoiled in a close loss to Danville last Thursday night, they were the ones playing spoiler this time, beating the host Chargers 67-41.

The win snapped Central's six-game losing skid and was the team's first victory of 2024.

"We needed one," Central coach Pancho Moore said with a long sigh. "We pulled that thing out and just played from beginning to end. It was rough, but we'll take it."

The start of Monday night's game was reminiscent of Central's 56-53 home loss to Danville five days ago, which the Maroons led 20-8 after the first quarter.

The Maroons led the Chargers 25-6 after the first quarter on Monday and went into halftime up 35-14. Instead of heading into the locker room, however, Moore gave his players an extended shootaround session. He wanted them to see the ball go through the hoop as much as possible, something they didn't see too much in the second half against Danville, to keep their confidence high.

It worked, with the Maroons (10-15) extending their lead to 43-17 against the Chargers (2-16) within the first two minutes of the third quarter.

"We didn't let up," Moore said. "I still would have liked to get a few more of the easy ones, but we'll take it. We didn't let them climb back in. That's the biggest thing is playing from beginning to end and staying aggressive."

Central continued to increase its lead, going up 61-30 by the end of the third quarter and starting a running clock for the remainder of the game.

Alex Parastaran led the Maroons with 18 points, followed by Grace Bandy with 14 points, Carleigh Parks with 13 points and Samara McArthur with 12 points. Dariah Horton paced the Chargers with 22 points, and Duma added 10 points.

Wins haven't come in bunches for the Chargers, with their only two victories happening in the first week of January. But that's not what this season has been about. Rather, Centennial has focused on something bigger.

"It's not about the wins and losses. It's about the growth," Butler said. "We always try to set goals each game and each practice. If we measure our season on wins and losses, we'll all be depressed. It's about our growth, our mentality and how we approach each and every game."

These rivals will go at it again Feb. 8 on the other side of town for both of their last games of the regular season. The Maroons will need to win all four of their remaining games to flirt with .500 again before the Class 3A postseason arrives in two weeks.

"We're grateful to have finally had this one," Moore said. "Hopefully, we can build off of it. It's a tough week. We'll see how it goes."