It would be an understatement to say Central was focused on Vienna (Ill.) center Brett Thompson.
Listed at 6 foot 11 or 7-0, the Saint Louis University-bound center was hard to miss on the floor Saturday afternoon in the Pepsi Showcase boys basketball event at the Show Me Center.
But the Eagles' big man seemed to be noticeably quiet as Central overcame an early hole and held off Vienna for a 46-45 victory in the third game of the seven-game event.
"He didn't play like he was a 7 footer," Central senior Chase Johnson said. "I thought he'd have like 30 rebounds or something, but he was not like I thought he would be."
Three of those were made by 6-3 senior Garrett Pannier, who became the game's hero by grabbing a rebound with 4 seconds left, getting fouled and hitting the winning point from the free-throw line. He led the Tigers (4-5) with 14 points.
"I was a little nervous," Pannier said. "I hadn't been in that situation in a couple of years, but we only needed one, and I knew I was going to get one."
Pannier, who enters the game to give Central an offensive boost from the bench, did just that in the second period.
"I don't usually shoot a lot of 3s," he said, "but I'm our spot shooter, and when I get the ball, I'm supposed to shoot."
"We figured out that when we drove inside," Johnson said, "they would collapse, and I'd kick it out."
On the receiving end was Pannier and Anthony Watts, who hit the other 3 and finished with 13 points.
Those two shooters had been blanked in the first quarter as Vienna built an 11-3 lead late in the first quarter.
"You're always nervous about getting blown out," Watts said. "I knew we were going to hustle. We wanted to play all-out defense and whatever happened, happened."
Central's all-out defense turned the tables, limiting Vienna to five points in the second quarter as the outside shooting helped the Tigers (4-5) build a 21-16 halftime lead.
"We zoned [Thompson] with a little man-to-man," Central second-year coach Drew Church said. "We kept someone in front and someone in back. We knew that if he got off, that would be a key for them winning."
Thompson was quiet again in the third period, scoring just three more points, while Central built a lead of as much as 32-22 by showing off a little of its speed. Johnson scored with a drive to the hole, Watts converted a three-point play and later scored on a fast break.
"We try to rebound and run a lot," Church said. "It takes the pressure off going against their defense and their big man. If you can beat him down the court, that makes for easier shots."
But Vienna (6-3) turned up its own defensive pressure in a game that became intense and chippy. With Vienna back within 36-33, Thompson was whistled for a technical foul after a traveling call early in the fourth period.
"They started getting frustrated," Johnson said. "We were getting off our shots and they weren't. We had their big guy on lockdown, and they started saying some things."
The big guy did score six straight points for Vienna, which tied the game 39-39, but a three-point play by Central's 6-5 freshman, Zach Boerboom, going against Thompson put Central up 44-43 with 1:52 to play. Johnson hit one free throw for a two-point lead, but Derek Trovillion (15 points) hit two free throws to tie with 45 seconds remaining.
After Central turned the ball over, Vienna ran a possession that resulted in a miss and the foul on Pannier's rebound.
"We took the shot a few seconds early," Vienna coach Rick Metcalf said. "We wanted to make one more pass.
"Basically, I thought we were quick shooting the ball from the perimeter. We took some long 3s that we didn't need to take. Taking nothing away from them, but we didn't play very well at all."
Vienna still had a final shot after Pannier's free throw but Chris Nichols' shot hit the rim twice and bounced away.
With the status of Central's leading scorer, Jajuan Bell, still up in the air as he serves a suspension, the win was a good boost for the Tigers heading into the Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament, where they are the No. 7 seed among 16 teams.
Bell was on the bench with the team Saturday and has been practicing with the squad, but the focus Saturday was on which players were on the floor.
"I was proud of our kids for diving for every loose ball," Church said. "Some guys lately have stepped up -- Chase Johnson, Anthony Watts, Shane Nolen. Boerboom is playing well and has a big upside. Derek Walker gives us defense and stability.
"We're going to keep busting our tail and hopefully good things will happen."
Vienna (45) -- Chris Nichols 3, Derek Trovillion 15, Corey Belsher 9, Tyler Smith 4, Brett Thompson 14. FG 16. FT 11-14. F 14. (3-pointers: Nichols 1, Thompson 1. Fouled out: none.)
Central (46) -- Anthony Watts 13, Chase Johnson 5, Shane Nolen 6, Zach Boerboom 6, Garrett Pannier 14, Landon Ewers 2. FG 16. FT 10-16. F 15. (3-pointers: Pannier 3, Watts 1. Fouled out: none)