BY JIM COTTER
Kylen Butler missed a 15-foot jump shot at the buzzer in regulation, and the Danville Vikings ended their regular season by losing a heartbreaker 57-55 to the Champaign Central Maroons on Friday evening at historic Combes Gym in Champaign.
The Vikings fell behind early in the game, and trailed at the end of the first quarter 16-4. However in the second quarter, Danville mounted their first of two comebacks on the evening as senior Steven Williams scored seven points in the period to bring the Vikings to within one point at the half 27-26.
The third quarter was pretty much even for both teams, as the Maroons took a 43-40 lead going into the final stanza. Denzel Smith, who started out the game very slow, picked up the pace in the second half, scoring nine points in the third quarter — including five free throws. For the game, Smith made 6-of-10 from the line.
Danville coach Ted Houpt, no doubt frustrated with the way his team ended the game, summed up the play of Smith as best as he could.
“Denzel had his ups and downs, and I’m not sure that he was ready to play, so we had to take him out for a while and then put him back in again in the second half,” Houpt said. “When Denzel is aggressive on both ends of the floor, he can be very effective, and he was just that in the second half.”
Leading the way for Danville was Smith and Williams, who each scored 12 points. Trent Sherfield, who came alive in the fourth quarter, added 11 for the Vikings, who end the regular season at 5-20 overall and 3-13 in the Big 12.
Coach Houpt talked about the last play, saying “it was a play that we had run before and got a real good look at it, but it just didn’t go in. That, unfortunately, has been the story for us this year, as we have had several games this season that have ended that way.”
Danville had several chances to take control of the game, as they went into the bonus midway through the third quarter, but only made 19-of-28 free throws on the evening. Smith was 8-of-12 from the line, further demonstrating the fact that the Vikings let one get away.
Champaign Central, who finishes the regular season at 5-21 overall and 5-11 in conference play, was led in scoring by Isiah Smith, who had 12 points. Xavier Martin added 11 for the Maroons, who didn’t fare much better from the charity stripe, only connecting on 12-of-21 from the line.
Danville will begin regional play on Tuesday when they travel to Normal to face conference rival Normal Community. The Vikings have lost twice to the Ironmen this season by scores of 59-39 and 55-43.
Houpt talked a little bit about facing the Ironmen in the regional next week.
“Anything can happen, and they (Normal Community) are a very good team that has won about 18 games in a row. However, we can play with those guys, and as I told the team, we just have to believe we can do it.”
The Vikings will face the Ironmen at 6 p.m. on Tuesday night, and the game can be heard on WDAN-AM 1490.