With just over five minutes to play and trailing by two, York star guard Jayvon Thomas sliced through two Champaign Central defenders and angled toward the rim.
His shot danced on the rim before falling off. York never got closer again.
Junior guard Dominique Brize paced a balanced attack with 16 points as the Maroons outlasted Thomas’ brilliant individual play to withstand the Dukes 59-46 in the championship of the MLK Tournament on Mondaynight at WW South.
Thomas scored a game-high 26 points with a series of spectacular drives, pull-up jumpers and two 3-pointers. York (11-7) faltered down the stretch as Champaign Central outscored the Dukes 13-2 over the final four and a half minutes.
“We played well, we just didn’t hit enough shots,” Thomas said.
Champaign Central (10-8) seized control with a 12-3 run to start the second half after trailing 27-26 at the break.
“That third quarter, we had a tough start, a turnover and we struggled getting into our offense and they hit some shots,” York coach Vince Doran said.“I think it was an instance where the fatique kicked in. This was our fifth game in four nights, but you have to credit Champaign. They played well.”
Brize and Jalen Rose knocked down consecutive 3-pointers to start the third quarter and ignite the Maroons run. Senior post player Lyke Beesley contributed nine points and eight rebounds for the Maroons. Jabari Freeman and Noah Wells added eight points apiece for the Maroons, who hit nine 3-pointers.
Sophomore reserve guard Cologeno Dawson hit two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter as the Maroons steadily pulled away. “We just played better defense, and took better shots at the end there,” Brize said.
York also persevered and impressed. Thomas scored 10 points in the second quarter as the Dukes erupted for 23 points. Junior guard Jack Morrissey drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing at the second-quarter buzzer for a 27-26 lead.
“It was a good game, and we showed a lot getting [to the championship] game, especially because we have so many juniors and we’re not a very big team,” Doran said.
Senior guard Luke Libert added eight points for the Dukes.
The result was deeply satisfying for a program still reeling from a significant off-the-court loss.
“Any time you win a championship, that’s good,” Champaign Central coach Sergio McClain said. The victory marked an emotional high point for the Maroons. Sergio’s father, the legendary Wayne McClain, who directed Peoria Manual to three consecutive Class AA state titles from 1995-97, passed away from complications of pneumonia last October.
Sergio McClain won four state titles as a player at Manual and was named the state’s Mr. Basketball in 1997. In his only year at the school after coaching as an assistant at Illinois and Kansas State, Wayne McClain engineered a stunning reversal as the Maroons knocked off previously unbeaten Springfield Lanphear in reaching the Class 3A sectional finals last year.
Sergio McClain coached at Parkland Community College in Champaign and for a semiprofessional team in Springfield before joining his father last year. “Dad got sick, and then I inherited his kids,” Sergio McClain said.
“It’s been tough,” Brize said. “Coach McClain taught us how to be men, on and off the court, and he showed us how to play and live through adversity.”