WOODSTOCK — Saturday’s non-district boys basketball game between Central and Skyline began as a back-and-forth affair that featured three ties and seven lead changes in the first half. The second half belonged almost entirely to the Falcons.
Showing off its depth and balance, Central began the third period with a lead and never relinquished it over the final two quarters en route to a 52-41 win, during which the Falcons overcame what head coach Jeff Whittle said was a sluggish start after playing their second game in as many days.
“Playing back-to-back, I thought (the Hawks) were doing a good job of controlling and slowing the tempo, but I just thought overall we didn’t have a lot of energy tonight,” said Whittle, whose team improved to 8-3. “But there in the second half I thought Jared Patton kind of hit some big shots and Sam (Shifflett) hit some big shots. Our seniors kind of carried us there.”
Central, which claimed the game’s final lead change with Shifflett’s bucket in the paint with 1:30 left in the first half, took a 22-20 lead into halftime and opened the third period with a pair of quick baskets to stretch the lead to six.
The Falcons carried that margin into the fourth quarter and put their balance on display, extending their lead to 42-31 with a 7-2 run in the first two minutes of the period that featured buckets by three different players.
Patton got the spurt started when he got a shooter’s roll on a mid-range jumper, and junior Silas Ruhling converted a traditional 3-point play when he was fouled on his own shot just outside the lane. Sophomore Dominic Strother’s easy bucket in the paint off an assist from Alex Neff against Skyline’s full-court pressure pushed the lead to 11 points with 6:19 to go.
Skyline (7-4) twice cut that deficit back to 7 points on layups by Mason Schmitz and Ty Clingerman midway through the quarter, but two free throws apiece from Patton and Shifflett sandwiched Shifflett’s basket in the lane to stretch Central’s lead to 12 with 1:10 left. The Hawks never got the margin back into single-digits.
“They’re a good team,” Skyline coach Jeff Monroe said. “They made the plays, that’s all I can say. We didn’t make the plays, they made the plays. That’s the difference between a really good team and a team who’s trying to win.”
Central wasn’t flawless in winning its third straight since suffering through a three-game losing streak against strong competition. In addition to slogging through a first half that didn’t impress Whittle, the Falcons turned the ball over six times in seven possessions with a double-digit lead in the fourth period, a stretch that allowed Skyline to trim the lead to seven.
“We weren’t being very heady in those situations,” said Whittle, whose team shot 50 percent from the floor and outrebounded the Hawks 31-23, “so we’ve just gotta know when we have a 10- to 15-point lead we have to take care of the ball and if we don’t’ have a layup, pull it back out and run our offense. I think we just got a little sloppy with the ball and let them get some easy shots. Basically I told them, a win’s a win, but we’ve gotta take (Sunday) off and come ready to practice Monday because we’ve got to still clean up some things.”
Shifflett led Central with 17 points, and though he was the team’s lone double-figure scorer, the Falcons got plenty of contributions elsewhere. Patton had 9 points, Strother had 8 points and eight rebounds, and Kelan Hoover (7 points, seven rebounds) and Ruhling (6 points) gave Central good minutes off the bench.
“Kelan’s been playing great off the bench,” Whittle said. “We have some guys out and (we’re) trying to still figure out some of our bench play and guys stepping up. And that’s great. Him and Silas have been playing big minutes off the bench lately, and we’ll need that down the road.”
Skyline, which got 18 points from Dylan Allison and 10 from Clingerman but shot only 31 percent from the floor, wasn’t nearly as deep as Central on Saturday night, as disciplinary problems continue to plague the Hawks and contributed to the absence of two key players on Saturday night. Junior forward Jayden Norwood, one of the Hawks’ top scorers through the first half of the season, and senior guard LT Barber both were planted on the bench for missing practice, Monroe said.
“That’s a double-digit scorer right there and one of our better defensive players not being able to play, it hurts us. It hurts us big time,” said Monroe, who noted that the Hawks, who played just six guys on Saturday, were fatigued down the stretch in the fourth period. “Still not gonna make no excuses. They made the plays, we didn’t. We’ve just gotta step it up. I guess as a coach you’ve gotta take the blame first before you can point it anywhere else. It’s my fault that we didn’t do what we were supposed to do tonight.”
The Hawks, who had won six straight before their two-game slide, face another tall order against Handley, the 2018 Class 4 state runner-up, next week.
“Everything that we’ve done did up ‘til now, I think our guys are questioning it, questioning why we got to where we were at,” Monroe said. “We’ve gotta figure out something. We’ve gotta figure out if we wanna build on our success or go back to our old ways. The biggest thing is we’ve just gotta come out and play. Handley’s not gonna take it easy on us and we’ve just gotta be ready to play.”