MOWEAQUA — Everyone who knows about the Central A&M boys basketball team is familiar with Connor Heaton, Griffin Andricks and Jacob Paradee.

They're the three leading scorers of the Raiders, each juniors who have the ability to take over a game in the blink of an eye.

Often overlooked, though, are the other two starters: Connor Hutchins and Austin Sloan, who fly under the radar, but are imperative to a deep postseason run.

In Friday's 73-61 Central Illinois Conference win over Meridian, Hutchins stepped up with a 13 point, 11 rebound double-double when Andricks was sidelined for the second quarter because of foul trouble.

"I know I have to step up and get boards," Hutchins said. "I know I'm probably not the most talented basketball player, but I've been going hard and trying to do everything I can for them."

Hutchins, a 6-foot-4 junior, did most of his damage in the first half after fouls relegated his teammates to the bench to ward off a stifling Meridian (14-5) defense and a balanced Hawks scoring effort. Hutchins dove for loose balls, came out of scrums with rebounds and held down the fort in the post.

"He's a really good role player," Andricks said. "He's really good at rebounding and screening and he came out and scored when we needed him to tonight in a key part of the game."

For the most part, the Raiders don't often rely on the scoring of Hutchins, they're a balanced act with other players who can take over. Hutchins does things for the team that don't always land in the box score, hustle plays and timely rebounds. But when called upon, he can score with anyone.

"He played very well tonight," Central A&M coach Rob Smith said. "He plays very well every night. Griff missed some extended time because of foul trouble, and Connor had to look to score a little more and he can do it. He can score, he just hasn't had to do it and he did tonight.

Andricks returned in the third quarter in grand fashion, going toe-to-toe with Meridian's Jacob Jones. The two exchanged baskets for the better part of the frame. Andricks scored 12 of his 20 points in the third and had six of his nine boards in the quarter.

"In the third quarter, it was all the Andricks show," Meridian coach Jay Driscoll said. "He had a heck of a quarter and did a nice job of posting, then he hit a big 3."

Jones, though, was a force of his own. He finished with a team-high 23 points and scored 13 of those in the third. He scored all but three of Meridian's points in the quarter.

"We did a good job of getting him the ball in the middle of the floor, then they started taking it away in the fourth quarter," Driscoll said. "We've got to find a way to get him loose there to keep going. Jacob did a great job of finishing in the third quarter to keep us in the game."

While Hutchins helped the Raiders (13-3) weather the storm in the first half, Griffin, Andricks and Paradee iced the game late. The Raiders had a five-point lead after three quarters and opened the fourth on a 6-0 run to extend the lead to 11 points. From the 2 minute, 5 second mark in the third quarter until the end of the game; Heaton, Paradee and Andricks scored every Raider point.

Heaton finished with a game-high 25 points to go with 14 rebounds and Paradee had eight points, all in the second half.

"They have a lot of weapons and they executed down the stretch," Driscoll said. "They did a nice job."

The win was technically the first CIC game for the teams, which met a month ago in the championship of the Macon County Tournament, where the Raiders held off a ferocious second-half Meridian rally to win the first Macon County Championship in A&M boys basketball history.

It was a key win over a team that will likely be in a small group battling for the conference championship at the end of the year.

Perhaps more important, though, was overcoming the fouls. Central A&M coach Rob Smith had no qualms with the by-the-book nature of the officiating crew, who he said was "really good." A&M overcame a problem that contributed to a super-sectional, season-ending loss to Goreville last season.

"We have to learn not to foul because that's a big part of the game," Andricks said. "In key moments if you get in foul trouble, you can't do anything about it. You've got to learn to play without your hands."

Said Smith: "We're starting to figure that out. If we can do that, we're going to be pretty dangerous."

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


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