Central boys bounce back from losses to Unity, Griggsville-Perry to win twice in 24 hours


Camp Point Central's Drew Paben drives to the basket while Van-Far's Gage Gibson defends during Saturday afternoon's high school boys basketball game at the Pit in Quincy during the KHQA Superfan Shootout. | Photo courtesy of Mike Pritchard

QUINCY — The week ended much better than it began for the Camp Point Central boys basketball team.

After suffering back-to-back upset losses to Mendon Unity and Griggsville-Perry, the Panthers whipped Rushville-Industry Friday night and then pulled away in the second half Saturday afternoon for a 59-46 victory over Van-Far (Mo.) in the American Family Insurance-KHQA Superfan Shootout at The Pit.

Elijah Genenbacher scored 16 points despite sitting out all but 3 minutes, 10 seconds of the first half with two fouls. Nick Moore added 14 points and Gavin Blewett 12 for Central, which improved to 18-6.

Yet, it has been a roller coaster ride for the Panthers since opening the season with 10 straight victories. They lost twice on the final day of the Macomb-Western Holiday Tournament as the top seed to finish fourth, then posted a pedestrian 6-4 record in their ensuing 10 games.

It hasn’t been a stretch worthy of the 10th-ranked team in Illinois Class 1A.

“We’ve been fighting this for a good month,” Central coach James Barnett said. “There are times when you think you’re coming out of it, like the good win we had at West Hancock (53-50 on Jan. 26 after two earlier losses to the Titans), and then we come back and lose a couple of games we shouldn’t have.

“Sometimes losses can be a blessing because it gives you an opportunity to step back and evaluate. We’re back to being enthusiastic about what we do. The skills are already there for this group. They can play basketball. It’s just about getting ourselves right. And I think we’re to that point.”

The Panthers scored the game’s opening nine points Saturday, only to allow the Indians to close within 19-17 at the end of the quarter. Moore and Cole Petersen then fueled a 10-0 run to start the second period to seemingly take control, only for Van-Far to score the final seven points to claw within 29-24 at halftime.

“They’re a really good team but we came out right away and you could tell we were ready to go,” Moore said. “We had to fight through some adversity. We’re a physical team, and there’s a lot of games when Drew (Paben), Elijah or Kaden Niekamp have to come out with foul trouble. We have to keep playing.”

After the Indians’ Pacey Reading drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the circle to make it a four-point game with 6:40 left in the third quarter, Central clamped down defensively both inside and along the perimeter, allowing just six more points in the period.

Meanwhile, Genenbacher re-entered the game after a nearly 13-minute absence to sink a 3-point from the right wing and put back a Moore miss sandwiched around a fast-break layup by Niekamp.

A free throw by Moore, a spinning turnaround jumper by Blewett from the right baseline and a layup by Genenbacher on a pass from Paden made it 43-31. Genenbacher scored seven of his points and the Panthers made 7 of 10 field goal attempts in the quarter, which ended with them on top 45-33.

“Those two losses brought us together as a team,” said Moore, who was named the game’s most valuable player. “We want to win games, and we realized we had better get going because it’s about postseason time.”

Any chance Van-Far had of climbing back in the game evaporated in the fourth quarter when it missed seven of its first eight shots and went 3½ minutes without scoring during one stretch. The Indians made only 8 of 26 field goal tries in the second half, including 2 of 13 from 3-point range.

“We’re trying to be a little more physical and a little more active on the defensive end to take away what the other team wants to do,” Barnett said. “It’s about having a defensive edge and getting stops anyway we can.”

After Reading hit a 3-pointer from the volleyball line for the last of his game-high 18 points with 1:39 remaining to pull Van-Far within 53-41, the Indians began fouling to put Central on the free-throw line. The Panthers made 6 of 8 down the stretch to seal it.

Van-Far shot 36 percent from the field and turned the ball over 13 times to fall to 15-5. Central shot 50 percent from the field despite a 4-for-13 showing from 3-point range.

It was the kind of performance Barnett was hoping for with just two weeks left in the regular season.

“This gives me the belief that we are a team that is capable of winning the regional and competing in the sectional,” he said. “It gives me hope that we can be there against teams like Illini Bluffs in about three weeks. That’s our ultimate goal.”

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