If the Centennial Eagles boys basketball team wins a county, regional or state title this year, it may look back at Thursday's victory over Howard as something of a turning point. It was certainly a confidence builder.
Centennial (8-4, 3-2 league) trounced an athletic and talented Howard squad, 91-70, at Howard with an excellent displayof shooting, ballhandling, rebounding and team play.
"We just plain got beat," Howard coach Rich Jenkins said.
Eagles point guard Austin Groves played his finest overall game, scoring a season-high 20 points -- but more importantly, committing fewturnovers.
Centennial made just three turnovers through the first three quarters, and by then held a 68-53 lead. The fourth quarterwas merely frosting.
"We came in here with heart and enthusiasmand hustled our guts out, and I think that was the difference," saidGroves. "We thought it would be a close game."
About the only time it was really close was in the first quarter. Howard (7-6, 2-3) started quickly when Terry Troy (11 points) banged in a three-pointer. The Lions led 9-4 after another long jumper by Troy.
Tim Day,Howard's 6-foot-6 center, put the Lions ahead 11-6 on a shot in the lane, but Centennial ran off the next eight points to take a 14-11 lead it never surrendered.
Sean Barth (15 points) scored two baskets in that run, and Groves and Damian Biggs (14 points) each had one. Two of the scores came on fastbreaks.
Howard's Dax Mathews, who got in early foul trouble and scored only 11 points, scored insideto make it 14-13. Mathews spent much of the second quarter and some of the third quarter on the bench and his absence hurt the Lions on the boards. He still managed 11 rebounds.
Charlie Stewart (18 points), one of five Eagles to score in double figures, drove for a score and a 16-13 Centennial lead.
Paul Curry launched a three-point basket for Howard to tie it, 16-all, but Centennial put together asix-point run on a drive by Biggs, a fastbreak layup by Chad Harris (10 points) and two free throws by Biggs. It was 22-16 with 10 seconds left in the quarter.
Troy, a quick guard with a strong move to the hoop, drove in and scored for Howard to end the quarter with Centennial leading, 22-18.
"We started well but hit a flat spot andnever recovered," Jenkins said. "We didn't rebound well."
Centennial shot so well that Howard didn't have much to rebound. The Eagles were 33-for-61 (54 percent) from the floor and 21-for-27 (80 percent) at the foul line.
Groves, who has a knack for penetrating and drawing fouls, was 10-for-13 at the line.
"And that's a typical game for Austin," Eagles coach Jim Hill said.
Groves hit six of those free throws in the second quarter, as Centennial pulled ahead 49-40 at halftime.
Two three-pointers by Stewart in the second quarter sparked the Eagles, who sank four three-pointers during the game.
At halftime the Eagles had shot 19-for-36 from the floor and Howard was 18-for-37.
But the Lions shot a disastrous 4-for-18 in the third quarter while Centennial shot a solid 8-for-17.
Eight points from Groves and a three-pointer by Biggs sparked Centennial in the third quarter as its lead grew to 15 points.
"This was one of our better shooting nights," Groves said. "It seemed that every time we needed a big basket, Barth, Biggs or Stewart wouldget it."
Groves guarded Howard's top scorer, Al Sutton, and held him to four points at halftime. Sutton came to life in the secondhalf to finish with 15.
James Green came off the Howard bench and played well at forward, scoring 10 points.