BY CHAD DARE
Some players would be excited going head-to-head with a major NCAA Division I recruit.
Danville junior Denzel Smith held his own in a one-on-one battle with Champaign Centennial’s Jeff Finke, who has offers from Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin.
Finke had a game-high 31 points and nine rebounds in the Chargers season-opening 78-54 win over the Vikings as Smith had a team-high 28 points and 13 rebounds.
“Those things don’t matter,’’ Smith said. “What matters is getting the win.’’
But Smith’s play impressed both Centennial coach Tim Lavin and Danville first-year coach Ted Houpt.
“He had a great game,’’ Lavin said. “We knew coming in that he was going to be tough to handle. He can shoot it from outside, he can drive and you forget sometimes that he is lefty. He is so smooth and he made some tough shots.’’
Smith scored 13 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter, but the Vikings spent the entire quarter facing a double-digit deficit.
“Denzel Smith was fantastic, great energy,’’ Houpt said. “He finished very well. I think they knew he was going left, and he got there anyway. So, that shows he was very focused.
“I was also happy with the defense he played.’’
Smith was part of powerful two-man inside threat for Danville (0-1 overall, 0-1 in the Big 12) as he and senior Daniel Carter combined for 39 points and 30 rebounds, as Carter had 11 and game-high 17 boards.
“We thought their size might hurt us. And it did, they got too many offensive putbacks and buckets around there,’’ said Houpt as Centennial’s post players combined for 43 points and 19 rebounds. “We held our own on the offensive end.’’
And Houpt said it was the type of game the team is expecting from Carter.
“He was working awfully hard,’’ Houpt said. “I think we can count on that the rest of the year. He is a warrior for us. I think we will get that consistent effort.’’
Unfortunately for Houpt and the Vikings, the perimeter players weren’t quite as efficient.
“We didn’t have any ball movement,’’ Houpt said. “We had a lot of dribbling and a lot of people shooting without moving the ball.
“That’s exactly what we have been preaching against.’’
Danville was just 19-of-70 from the field (27 percent) and when you take out Carter and Smith, the Vikings were an awful 5-of-40 from the field and 4-of-21 behind the 3-point arc.
“That’s a double whammy,’’ Houpt said. “We would prefer that they don’t take tons of shots. We would like them to get us into our offense.
“But, if they take shots, we would like to do it because they are making them. We didn’t shoot the ball well and we ended up shooting it too often.’’
According to Smith, the offensive woes for Danville can be attributed to Centennial’s 20-2 run to start the second half.
“We lost all of our confidence in the second half,’’ he said. “We didn’t come out with the same intensity we had in the first half.
“Our guards were getting guarded and our offense lost focus. We needed to set the screens and move the ball better.’’
His coach completely agreed.
“When things start going against us — we haven’t had a lot of success — you get accustomed to here we go again mentality,’’ Houpt said. “They kind of went their own direction. That’s very discouraging, because we’re better than that.
“I’m not upset with the loss. We can’t afford to go separate directions when things go against us.’’
And it didn’t help Danville that Centennial’s senior Luke Vaughn came off the bench to score 12 points and contributed 10 rebounds.
“Vaughn was a great spark for us,’’ said Lavin. “Luke stepped up and gave us a good presence down low.
“In the second half, we did a much better job of getting the ball down low and establishing that down there, which created open shots on the perimeter.’’
Monday’s game was not only the season opener for both teams, it was also a first-round contest in the Lincoln Thanksgiving Tournament.
Both teams are back in action on Wednesday in Lincoln, with Centennial facing Cahokia in a 5:30 game and Danville playing Seton Academy at 7 p.m.
In the sophomore game on Monday night, Centennial defeated Danville 74-42. Leading scorers for the Vikings were Durand Windom with 11 and Aubrey Duncan had 10.