SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – The Central boys basketball team encountered man-to-man defense from Class 4 state semifinal opponent Lafayette (St. Joseph) that seemed favorable on film.
Once the Rebels put their confident game plan into motion on Thursday, their speed, shot selection and active defense clicked like they have throughout a special season.
Central shot a stellar 60 percent from the field, improving as the contest transpired, and moved one step closer to the ultimate goal of a state title.
All-state junior guard Jobe Bryant and his teammates dazzled on the brighter stage, and steamrolled to an 82-57 triumph over the Fighting Irish at the 2023 MSHSAA Show-Me Showdown.
“We were real excited when we won our last game, and we’re real happy to be in final four,” Bryant said. “But we can’t be satisfied because there’s still more work to be done.”
Bryant compiled 20 points, seven assists, six steals and six rebounds, and the Rebels received at least eight points from all five starters in a balanced attack.
Central (28-3) looked for fast breaks at every opportunity, but also made crucial plays in early half-court situation. Triston Stewart and Caden Casey capped a 14-4 start with consecutive putbacks.
Senior guard Mason Williams drained the only two 3-point field goals made by the Rebels on back-to-back splashes that created another headache for the Lafayette defense.
“I knew when I knocked those first two down that they would start hugging up on me,” Williams said. “So I knew the drive would be there, and that’s what I relied on the rest of the game.”
Bryant took over the remainder of the first quarter. He was upended on a driving layup for a 3-point play, then dribbled behind the back to finish an outlet pass from Caden Casey.
Kannon Harlow capped a 2-on-1 fast break off a Williams steal, and Casey broke ahead for another layup that followed a block by Kendall Horton.
Central ended the period with a commanding 29-12 advantage. Bryant hit a baseline jumper, and found Zack Boyd open after Casey drove end to end during an 8-0 run in the second.
“In the first quarter, the guys came out and played the style of basketball they needed to play, and showed what kind of players they are and what kind of team we have,” Central coach Brad Gross said.”
From a defensive standpoint, Central pressured well along the perimeter, and limited touches inside for standout forward Camden Bennett, who netted just three of his team-high 20 points in the first half.
Connor Zeit and George Galloway tried to spark Lafayette (22-8) with 3-pointers, but the production of Central never subsided on course for a 47-23 halftime cushion.
The Rebels endured a slight lull out of the locker room, as Lafayette forced three turnovers in a span of 3 ½ minutes to draw within 49-30.
Bryant came back from a timeout to sink a pull-up jumper, and completed a 3-point play off a steal after dishing to Horton within a 7-0 Central spurt.
“We play fast all the time. That is our strength, getting downhill and attacking the basket,” Gross said. “As the years have progressed, I think we’ve done a good job of slowing things down but still attacking the rim and taking the right shots.”
Williams, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, was fouled on his attempt to emphatically throw down a lob from Bryant late in a third quarter that concluded in a margin of 71-41.
Lafayette simply could not contain the Rebels, who made 65 percent of their shots in the second half. Central finished with a plus-17 rebound differential.
“I was thinking they might go to [zone defense] more once we were up a little bit, but no,” Bryant said. “I watched a lot of film on what they did throughout the year. They have won a lot games before us by 20, so I was thinking they would stick to what they do.”
Williams finished with 16 points and six rebounds, and Casey provided 15 points with seven rebounds and three steals. Stewart was 4-of-4 shooting while equaling Horton with eight points.
Central will punctuate its season Friday at 2 p.m. against top-ranked Vashon, which defeated Tolton Catholic 49-45 in the other semifinal game.
Mikey Thomas and Antonio Williams had 10 points each for the Fighting Irish, who shot 38 percent from the field and a solid 16-of-23 from the line.