Both 5A boys basketball title contenders were missing their top players.
So instead of their Dec. 7 meeting being an early season showdown, Centennial and Millennium had more of a sparring session on the Tigers' home court. Coyotes star senior guard Jake Lifgren was out with an injury and Millennium junior forward Isaac Hymes has to sit out the first half of the regular season after transferring to BFL Prep in Seattle, then returning to Millennium.
Centennial rolled out an experienced lineup, with senior pont guard Abe Rangel, three juniors and sophomore forward Gage Gallbreath - sixth man on last year's 5A runner up. By contrast Millennium started one senior, two sophomores and two freshman and brought another freshman, coach's son JT Amundsen, in first off the bench.
While the Tigers were playing with a deeper, more dynamic roster, the difference in seasoning showed in the final four minutes. Rangel tied the game at 45, drew a foul and made both free throws and helped set up junior wing Emery Young's and one to build a 49-45 lead en route to a 54-48 Centennial win.
"Some of the guys are getting valuable minutes, which we need now. Millennium is a good team so we had to take our time," Centennial coach Randy Lavender said. "They have to go out there and produce. More is expected out of them."
JT Amundsen's third three-point basket of the night brought the Tigers within one, at 49-48, with 1:48 left in the game. Those would be the home team's last points, though, as Centennial completed a 9-3 run in the final four minutes.
Tigers coach Ty Amundsen pointed this stretch, and two others, as the times when his inexpierenced team gave away the advantage they earned during the bulk of the night. Centennial began the game with a 7-1 run.
Then, with Millennium leading 28-27 and four seconds left in the first half Amundsen reminded his team it had a foul to give and to use it. Instead Rangel drove a bit, turned and passed back to Young , who drilled a 25-foot three just before the buzzer.
"It's youth because it's offensive rebounds and toughness. It's getting pushed out of position," Amundsen said. "The dumb play at the end of the half, when we were supposed to foul and didn't and they get a three. It's things like that at inopportune times."
While Millennium cycled through its offensive options, Centennial (6-1) focused on Young early and often.
Lifgren averaged 22 points a game last year, and 19 point scorer Jayson Petty transferred to PHH Prep in the summer. Young showed he could handle it, pouring in 15 of hi game high 20 points before halftime.
"I've seen him grow a lot. He still has a lot more to go. He has to go out there and be more of 'the man,' which I'm trying to make him do," Lavender said.
Freshman guard Kingston Tosi showed a versatile game to go with his 6-5 frame, leading the Tigers with 15 points. Senior wing Reginald Orr and sophomore guard Gabe Pickens both had 11 points
Along with Hymes, the return of senior DeMarco Thomas will add size and strength to a team that was lacking in times against the Coyotes.
"Taking care of the ball and making them stronger, a lot of toughness things will come. Making harder cuts and setting harder screens too," Amundsen said. "We need to get consistency."
Gallbreath scored all 10 of his points in the second half. Junior Donquel Yancy (9 points), a 5-8 guard, might remain in the starting lineup when Lifgren returns in January.
Lifgren suffered a concussion in the final of the Sunnyslope preseason tournament. This win moved Centennial to 3-0 without him, and he sat out a 54-50 loss to Gilbert Highland Dec. 9 at Hoophall West.
All things considered starting January with a 4-1 regular season record - the Coyotes host Laveen Betty Fairfax Friday - and a healthy Lifgren will work just fine for Centennial.
"He had a fall, and it's hard to explain. It wasn't really like a concussion. He didn't have his breath. He's probably ready to go but it's still early. We've got two more games and we're off for almost three weeks," Lavender said.
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