ALATAMONT — For 16 minutes, it was neck-and-neck.
The upstart No. 6-seeded team from Odin played an even first half with No. 1-seeded Central A&M in the Class 1A Altamont Sectional semifinal Wednesday.
But in the second half, the Raiders showed why they're the No. 3-ranked team in Class 1A, cruising to a 54-40 win to advance to Friday's sectional title game against Nokomis
Central A&M coach Rob Smith anticipated a closer game than the seedings might have shown.
"The challenge was expected and we know (Odin) is very capable of playing well so we expected a battle. They are well coached and played super hard," he said.
An Austin Sloan 3-pointer as time ran down gave the Raiders a 12-9 advantage at the end of the first quarter and the lead had shrunk to two-points at halftime, 21-19.
Connor Heaton powered the Raiders' offense with 10 points in the first half but he knew his team's defense wasn't up to par.
"We didn't play to our potential at all in the first half and our defense was awful," he said. "At halftime we had a talk that we needed to step it up on defense and that's what we did. That's the reason we came out with the win tonight."
Smith also stressed at halftime the Raiders needed to be more aggressive at the post.
"At halftime I told them we needed to play better defense, I thought we were giving up too many easy baskets and we were sort of passive on defense. We didn't really getting into the help-side like I thought we should," he said. "The other thing was play through the physical play in the post and get us to the free-throw line."
Odin was able to tie the game 21-21 with 7:10 left in the third quarter and then wouldn't score again for five minutes.
In that period, the Raiders looked like the team that had won 18 consecutive games and hadn't lost since 2018. Central A&M's juniors Heaton, Jacob Paradee, and Griffin Andricks went on a 16-0 run themselves to make it 37-21.
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During the run the Eagles gave up turnover after turnover as the quickness of the Raiders became too much to counter.
"We got steal after steal and layup after layup and that's our identify right there. Jacob gets out and run, Austin gets out and runs and we have open layups all the time," Heaton said. "That's our strength: Our quickness."
As Smith had hoped at halftime, the 6-6 Andricks also dominated the post for the Raiders, scoring nine second-half points.
Central A&M led 42-29 after three quarters and never let the Eagles get closer than 10 points in the fourth quarter.
Heaton finished with a game-high 22 points, Paradee added 14 points and Andricks put in 10.
Paradee said that close first half was a result of the Raiders thinking ahead to their next postseason matchup.
"We came out and we were thinking about the sectional final game on Friday. I think maybe we skipped ahead a little bit and we looked past Odin a bit," he said. 'We've thought about Nokomis a little bit this week since we only have one practice to prepare for them. It was just careless mistakes."
Central A&M will face Nokomis for the sectional championship on Friday at 7 p.m. at Altamont High School. A&M beat Nokomis 69-56 in the sectional title, played at Moweaqua, last season.
"I hate to say that (we were thinking ahead) and you never want to do that," Smith said. "I know we practiced for Odin and got ready for Odin but in the back of kids' minds (the sectional final) was a big game for us last year."
Heaton said the team dodged an Odin-shaped bullet and it's a mistake that won't be repeated.
'We stress focusing on one game at a time a lot and its hard to go in and prepare for one opponent like we did the last but we've got to treat every game the same and we will take it one-by-one from here on out," he said. "We messed up and we overlooked them and they gave us a game and they are a good team. From now on we will take it day-by-day."
Nokomis advanced to the title game with a 57-34 win against St. Elmo/Brownstown on Friday. Carter Sabol led Nokomis with 24 points.