Basketball wimps? Not the new, no-quit Centennial Eagles. Their school's basketball wimpdom appears ready to fade into history.
DuringCentennial's 71-66 upset overtime victory against 19th-ranked McDonogh Thursday, the Eagles exhibited a combination of talent, tenacity and confidence that should spell trouble for a lot of opponents this season.
The first game of the season for both teams was a battle between two guys named Stewart -- Centennial's Charlie, who scored 27 points,and McDonogh's Ayundai, who sank 22.
But it was also a major testto see if the Eagles, who had a habit of choking in big games last year on the way to a disappointing 11-12 record, would pick up where they left off.
Charlie Stewart, a 6-foot senior forward who averaged 11.5 points last season, exemplified the big heart and bulldog character of the Eagles.
Every time McDonogh seemed ready to run up a substantial lead, Centennial managed a big play. Four of them were three-point baskets by Stewart. Thanks to him, the Eagles never trailedby more than five points.
"We're like bulldogs," Stewart said. "We may not overpower anyone, but at halftime we said we weren't going to lose, and we didn't."
"Winning a close one early can set the tone for an entire season," Centennial coach Jim Hill said. "It can pick them up to another level."
Stewart was not the only Centennial hero. Damian Biggs cashed in 20 points despite being shut out until 4:50 remained in the first half. Senior forward Shervin Korangy chippedin with eight points.
And senior guards Ken Ulman and Keith Krider, despite making some mistakes they wanted to forget, made some plays worth remembering.
Ulman, who scored just six points, scored on a layup with 1:41 left in regulation to tie the game, 60-60. Then he stole the ball and made another layup with 34 seconds left, tying thescore at 62-62.
McDonogh missed two shots in the final seconds, before Biggs hauled down a crucial rebound with four seconds left. He then missed a shot at the buzzer from 15 feet to end regulation play.
"We never considered we'd lose the game," Ulman said, showing thekind of confidence Centennial will need to overcome its disappointing basketball history.
Krider, taking over the point guard positionthis season, lost his cool and was hit with a technical foul in the first half.
But with a minute left in overtime and the score tied,66-66, he stole the ball and sank a layup, giving the Eagles a lead they never relinquished.
Following Krider's play, McDonogh's Stewart, a slick point guard who sank all four previous free-throw attempts, missed the front of a one-and-one.
Then, Centennial's Mark Lee,who was in the game because Biggs fouled out with 2:25 left in overtime, scored a layup with 33 seconds left. Centennial led, 70-66.
Centennial's Brian Reid scored the final point on a free throw with 21seconds left.
Credit Coach Hill with an effective coaching move in the second half. McDonogh sank five three-point shots in the first half, so the Eagles played pressure defense against McDonogh's two guards and held them to one three-pointer in the second half.
Centennial used a full-court trap to produce the crucial turnovers late in the game for Ulman and Krider.
McDonogh's size had Hill worried atfirst. Center Matt Harley (6-foot-8) scored 14 points, most of them off rebounds, and the Eagles had no one to play against him.
Centennial's tallest player is Biggs at 6-3.
"We wanted to rebound better and run more, but you've got to like our heart," Centennial Coach Jim Hill said. "Stewart and Biggs both want the ball in tense situations."
"We like being the underdog," Stewart said. "When we saw McDonogh was ranked 19th, it really got us pumped up."
How long the Eagles remain underdogs is anyone's guess after Thursday.