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PEORIA — After the record skipped off track on Friday in a Class 1A state semifinal loss to Cissna Park, the Central A&M boys basketball team dropped the needle in the perfect spot and played all the hits on Saturday.

The Raiders rolled in transition, hit 3-pointers, drove for layups, forced turnovers and ran past Concord Triopia in a 70-39 win in the third place game at Carver Arena in Peoria. With the win, Central A&M (33-4) won its first boys basketball state trophy.

Any letdown that could have existed from Friday's loss didn't exist, but it wasn't exactly easy to ditch the pain that came from it. The team went to a dinner on Friday night and collectively decided to look ahead. They didn't come to Carver Arena for two losses. The coaching staff, with assistance from the players, put in a game plan and A&M executed.

"We just had to move on," all-state junior Connor Heaton said. "Yeah, we were upset, but we just wanted to win another game and end the season with a win and that's what we did. We stayed together and played as a team."

Heaton scored 19 points — including an acrobatic layup through traffic near the end of the third quarter — and had 13 rebounds. Jacob Paradee led all scorers with 24 points, with a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter that was "probably" the deepest triple he ever hit. Senior Austin Sloan had 13 points and the Raiders shot 51 percent as a team and forced 17 Triopia (33-5) turnovers.

“We had a big year so being able to come to the state finals, there’s nothing like it," Paradee said. "It’s great to come out here and compete with everyone."

The Raiders led 31-21 at halftime and outscored the Trojans 39-18 in the second half. At one point the lead ballooned the lead to 33 points before checking out the starting unit to an ovation from A&M's fans.

"I'm glad we got to show the state what we are," A&M coach Rob Smith said. "We weren't who we are in the first half yesterday, but we certainly were today. I couldn't be more proud of them."

A&M connected on eight 3-pointers — four from Paradee — and the Raiders used their size to out-rebound Triopia 39-23.

"It wasn't our day," Triopia coach Mike Lewis said. "There's not much we did right. They forced us into things; they spread us out a little bit. We made turnovers. We didn't get the ball to the middle of the floor, and when we did we didn't make shots. That's just how it goes.

"The third-place game is hard to get up for — they were, we weren't — but I'm still proud of these kids."

A&M capped off a season that began with high expectations in the exact building it planned to end the season, though one game short of a state championship game. They managed every lofty expectation and only had four hiccups along the way.

“We knew we had big expectations coming into the year," Heaton said. "We’re just a close-knit group from the five starters to the end of the guy on the bench. We’re a close team. We knew our expectations and we never played down to our competition. We played as a team and played hard and played as a group."

Said Griffin Andricks, who had three blocks: “We had to take it one game at a time. We couldn’t look ahead. You had to play every night like it was your last. That’s how it needed to go throughout the entire season. You can’t be looking ahead because that’s when you start to get nervous and play bad."

Will the Raiders be around next year? Smith had a big grin on his face at the post game press conference.

"Absolutely," he said. "Why not us?"

 


 

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Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25

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Reporter

Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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