Centre Cougars opened the season with a bang Friday, defeating Central Christian of Hutchinson, 60-53. On Nov. 21, Central Christian was ranked number 1 in 1A Division II in the pre-season Kansas basketball coaches’ poll.
It was a heady victory for everyone. When the final horn sounded, coach Richard Idleman was so excited he briefly bounded onto the playing floor to greet his players. Fans were jubilant. Afterward, players mingled with the crowd and savored their praise.
The victory wasn’t easy. Centre trailed by 2 points, 23-21, at halftime. After Central Christian made 9 unanswered points late in the third quarter, the Cougars trailed by 11 points, 42-31. It looked like an insurmountable hill to climb up, but Xavier Espinoza made 5 consecutive points from the floor and Cody Svoboda added a three-pointer to bring Centre within 5 points by the end of the quarter.
The Cougars intensified their defense in the fourth quarter, rattling their opponent. Cole Srajer made a 3-pointer at the 6:15 mark to give Centre a 46-44 lead. After two Central Christian free throws, Centre trailed again, but Dylan Deines made a 3-pointer and a layup to take back the lead.
C.J. Thompson enlarged the lead to 5, but Central Christian got within 3 before a basket by Svoboda and last-minute free throws from Srajer and Deines resulted in a 7-point Cougar victory.
Srajer was Centre’s high-point man, scoring 27 points, including 4 treys and 5 free throws. Deines also scored in double figures with 13. Brendan Bina had 7 points, Svoboda 6, Espinoza 5, and Thompson 2.
Centre will play 8th-ranked Lebo at 8:30 p.m. Thursday in the opening round of the Herington pre-season tournament.
“Friday’s win was probably the first time Centre has defeated a state-ranked team,” Idleman said. “This will be a much tougher game. I will have to get our guys ready. Our defense has to improve, and we will have to double up on Lebo’s big 6’5” center.”
The Cougars will play Wichita Classic School at 5:30 p.m. Friday.