Omaha Central looked very much like a three-time defending state champion throughout the first quarter Saturday against Omaha Burke.
But Central let off the accelerator and that nearly cost the top-ranked Eagles. They needed to come up with some key plays in the final minute to earn a 73-67 win over the Bulldogs at Central High School.
“I thought once we got up we put it in cruise control a little bit. It’s a great lesson for us,” said Central coach Eric Behrens, whose team stretched its winning streak to 40 games. “It’s not a switch you can turn on and off.”
Central (4-0), which leaves Monday for the City of Palms Classic in Fort Myers, Fla., did little wrong in the first quarter. The Eagles hit 10 of 14 shots from the field, controlled the boards and led 27-12 after the first eight minutes.
From that point on, though, Burke (3-3), which lost to 2-4 Millard South by five points on Friday, whittled away at Central’s lead.
“After the first quarter, they could have quit. They had a lot of opportunities to fold but they didn’t. I’m really proud of the guys,” Burke coach Ben Holling said. “Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect tonight. Our heads were down after Friday. They showed some resiliency, that’s for sure.”
The Bulldogs trimmed the deficit to 38-27 at halftime and started to find their range from the perimeter in the second half. Burke was 1 of 10 from the 3-point line in the first half, but the Bulldogs hit three 3s in the first four minutes of the third quarter to cut the lead to 44-40.
Central regained control as it finished the quarter on a 12-1 run to lead 59-43 after three quarters. Deandre Hollins-Johnson hit a pair of long 3-pointers to jump-start that run.
Burke, though, kept hitting 3s in the fourth quarter — the Bulldogs were 6 of 11 from behind the arc in the second half — and quickly cut Central’s lead again.
“They just kept coming. They’ve got a lot of talent at the guard spots,” Behrens said. “We made a couple of mini runs, but I didn’t think we looked inspired again (after the first quarter).”
Burke scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter, and when Trey Carr and Rashad McCoy hit back-to-back 3-pointers, the Bulldogs were within 67-65 with two minutes left.
On its next possession, Central worked the clock before turning the ball over with 1:13 left. But Burke never got a shot off as Central came up with a steal and Kevin Scott made a layup with 53 seconds left.
That was only Burke’s second turnover of the second half after committing 10 before halftime.
Burke had one more chance to tie or take the lead. After Burke’s Nick McCulloch scored in the lane to make it 69-67, Hollins-Johnson was fouled with 21 seconds left. He missed the front end of a 1-and-1, but Central’s Tre’Shawn Thurman grabbed the rebound near midcourt. He then drove in and scored with 16 seconds left.
The Eagles added two more free throws by Scott with 12 seconds left for the final margin.
“We rushed ourselves a little on the first possession and the second we just didn’t box out,” Holling said. “Just mental mistakes and you can’t afford to do that.”
Akoy Agau led four Eagles in double figures with 19 points. Tre-Deon Hollins had 14 points and seven rebounds and Thurman added 13 points and seven boards.
McCoy led Burke with 25 points, knocking down a game-high four 3-pointers. Carr finished with 17 points, including nine in the fourth quarter.
Central is now one away from the Class A record winning streak of 41 set by Grand Island, which ended in the 1948-49 season.
Omaha Burke (3-3) ................. 12 15 16 24—67
At Omaha Central (4-0) ................. 27 11 21 14—73
B: Carr 8-12 0-0 17, Dresslar 1-6 2-2 5, Clayton 1-1 0-0 2, Henderson 0-1 0-0 0, Curran 2-6 0-0 5, McCoy 8-12 5-7 25, Poppen 0-5 0-0 0, Kamaro 2-2 0-0 4, McCulloch 3-5 1-2 7, Gill 1-1 0-1 2. Totals 26-51 8-12 67.
C: Agau 7-9 5-10 19, Scott 2-5 4-4 8, Hollins 4-8 6-7 14, Hollins-Johnson 4-6 0-1 11, Billingsley 1-4 4-4 6, McGaugh 1-3 0-0 2, Thurman 6-8 1-2 13. Totals 25-43 20-28 73.
3-point goals: B 7-21 (McCoy 4-7, Carr 1-3, Dresslar 1-2, Curran 1-5, Poppen 0-4); C 3-9 (Hollins-Johnson 3-3, Thurman 0-1, Agau 0-1, McGaugh 0-2, Billingsley 0-2).
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