HILLSBORO, Mo. – An explosive offense with creative playmakers has been enough for the Central boys basketball team to overwhelm most opponents this season.
But with history beckoning on Friday afternoon, the Rebels were rewarded for their composure and discipline by clinching the second state final four berth in program history.
Central forced six turnovers in the fourth quarter, capitalized when drawing fouls down the stretch, and upended MICDS 56-52 in a Class 4 quarterfinal thriller at Jefferson College.
Junior guard Caden Casey scored a game-high 15 points, and dropped in 7-of-9 free throws as the Rebels steadily avenged an 18-point home loss against the Rams in January.
“It really feels good to get that one,” Central coach Brad Gross said in an interview with KREI radio. “I’m just proud of the boys. They have been working so hard all week… It was a huge win for our program.”
Central (27-3) advanced to face Lafayette (St. Joseph) for a noon tipoff Thursday at Great Southern Bank Arena in Springfield. Its only previous trip to the semifinals came in 1976.
Jobe Bryant finished with 11 points, and dished couple of key assists to forwards Triston Stewart and Zack Boyd once the Rebels regained a slight lead in the fourth quarter.
Casey had the ball in his hands at several crucial moments from there. His slight hesitation and drive fouled MICDS forward Mason Swartz out of the game with 3:22 remaining.
Brandon Clemens brought the Rams within 52-51 from the line, and his team had multiple chances to obtain its first lead of the game after producing two clutch steals.
But a traveling violation with 56 seconds left gave the Rebels a needed stop. The next arrived with 26 seconds on the clock as MICDS had nobody in the vicinity of a pass toward the corner.
Casey nailed both free throws after Bryant broke pressure on an inbounds play, then sealed the victory by sinking two more with 7 seconds left after rebounding a miss.
“We had a few missteps down the stretch, but every time we did, we locked down on the defensive end and got the ball back,” Gross said. “At the end of the game, Caden Casey hit some huge free throws.”
Marcus Coleman paced MICDS (23-7) with 11 points, and tied the contest at 39-39 after recovering a blocked shot, drilling a perimeter heave through contact, and converting the rare 4-point play with six-tenths of a second remaining in the third quarter.
The Rams erased their largest deficit of 11 after being blanked through nearly four minutes at the outset, but could never surge ahead in the high-stakes rematch between top-five clubs.
Mason Williams restored a 31-27 separation with a 3-pointer, and Kendall Horton snapped a 33-33 tie for the Rebels with a layup off his third steal that sparked a transition basket.
Horton ended with nine points, including an early 3-point play on give-and-go execution. Stewart notched a couple of physical putbacks while scoring eight, and gave Central a 16-9 edge to cap the opening period.
Bryant, a touted Division I prospect with more career points as a junior than any player in MAAA boys basketball history, will have many new eyes watching his skills at the state venue.
He landed a turnaround jumper early in the second quarter, and broke ahead for a transition layup and 28-17 advantage just moments are Kannon Harlow hit a tough runner for Central.
Jayden Banks, whose errant pass proved costly near the conclusion, answered with a smooth runner. MICDS cut the halftime margin to 26-20 after Coleman buried a 3-pointer.
Swartz tossed in 10 points while Brin Lewis tallied nine and Banks contributed eight for the Rams.
Central made 14-of-19 free throws collectively.
The other Class 4 semifinal matchup on Thursday will feature top-ranked Vashon against Tolton Catholic.