With a quiet whisper Tuesday night, the Central gymnasium saw its final regular-season basketball game.
There was no overflowing ceremony, no fanfare to praise its near 30 years of work. There was just simply a basketball game and the silent murmurs that this was amazingly, the beginning of the end.
In the first of what the Chargers hope becomes a series of joyous goodbyes, the school bid a hushed farewell to the building that has housed its basketball games since 1981.
“This definitely gives us a sense of urgency about what we’re trying to do come playoffs time,” Chargers head coach Andre Taylor said. “We definitely want to have the chance to be back in here when it’s time for the playoffs.”
With an 82-69 victory over GHSA Region 4-AA foe Monticello, the Chargers moved one step closer to that goal. Punctuating the gymnasium’s unofficial closing with a large win, Central (15-7, 7-3) hopes this momentum continues Friday in its crucial regular season-finale on the road at Putnam County.
Combined with losses from two region opponents, a win Friday could give Central all the components it needs to host at least one region playoff game and potentially an early round state playoff contest.
“Yeah, we can tell it’s region playoff time, but if we’re going to do anything in those playoffs, we’ve got to play a lot better than we did (Tuesday),” Taylor said.
Allowing one of its highest point total to an opponent this season, Central committed several costly turnovers, with a majority of key ones coming down the stretch.
As the Hurricanes battled back from a 23-point deficit entering the fourth quarter, it was all Central could do to keep them just short of making the game close. But with Monticello bringing the deficit to within 10 points on two occasions, the Chargers began to see things go just as they’d hoped.
Hitting nine free throws in the fourth quarter, the Chargers were able to keep just enough of a distance on Monticello to hold on for a victory that Taylor wasn’t all that pleased to see.
“It was our defense,” Taylor said. “We just didn’t play any defense at all. Not one lick. They just did whatever they wanted out there. We’ve been a pretty good defensive team all year, I just don’t know what it was.
“I really hate to see the gym go out this way. Sure, we won, but we’ve got to have a better showing than (Tuesday) if we plan to see this gym off anymore this year.
Taylor said he hoped his playoff-hungry team didn’t play down to its seemingly weaker opponent.
“I don’t know if it was because we were playing a team they thought they could beat easily or what,” Taylor said. “I mean, there’s no reason for why we should’ve given up 33 points at halftime just one game after we only allowed eight before the half.”
Part of the reason the Chargers may have gotten off to a slow start defensively may have been because they didn’t start their normal starting five. Along with it being the final regular-season game at Central’s gym, the school’s winter sports senior athletes were being celebrated.
As a tribute to his most veteran players, Taylor fielded a lineup at opening tip that was full of seniors. Two of his senior starters, Erion Smith and Reshar Knight, were even benched for the game’s first 5:36 so that some of Central’s backup seniors could experience more playing time.
Another Chargers player who did not start but factored heavily into the outcome of the game was junior guard Matthew Brabham. One of the team’s leading scorers finishing with 19, Brabham made his presence felt as soon as he walked on the court at the start of the second quarter, as he came away with 12 points in the quarter alone.
But injuring his ankle with about 30 seconds remaining in the third, Brabham was forced from the game, giving his teammates an opportunity to step up. Enter, Xavier Card.
“I knew I had to take over with Matthew out hurt, and that I just had to pick it up and play and just roll as if he wasn’t even missing,” Card said.
Taylor expects Brabham to be available to play later this week.
Rattling off nine points in the fourth quarter, Card finished the game with 30, including three first-half 3-pointers.
“I’ve been on him about coming in like that,” Taylor said about Card. “I’ve been telling him that he has the ability to do that; to come in and take over a basketball game like that. He’s been playing with me on the varsity team since he was a sophomore, and I’ve seen that he has long had the potential to even come off the bench and score 20 points.”