Multitalented wing Isaiah Butler said coming off the Elgin bench suits him perfectly.
"I'd rather be off the bench than start," the 6-foot junior newcomer said. "I'm so unknown that people are like 'Oh, he's just a bench player.' Then I just bring it, bring a spark and light the whole team."
Butler provided instant illumination when he entered a tied nonconference game at Burlington Central late in the first quarter Tuesday. He canned his first 2 shots, including a 3-pointer, and scored 9 second-quarter points en route to a game-high 21 as Elgin built a 20-point lead before holding off the late-charging Rockets 52-44.
"He can score," Elgin coach Mike Sitter said of Butler. "He's had a little knee issue he's dealing with. He wasn't at 100 percent. Hopefully, he ices that up and comes back (today). He's given us some offense."
The players from Elgin (5-3) admitted they were distracted by the looming matchup at archrival Larkin (7-2) today at 7:15 p.m. -- "We're all a little hyped for that so maybe we were looking ahead a little," Elgin guard Ryan Sitter said -- but it didn't show in the middle quarters against the Rockets.
Led by Butler, the Maroons outscored Central 17-7 in the second quarter to extend their 16-11 lead to 33-18 at halftime. They built their advantage as high as 46-26 with 1:22 left in the third quarter, but Central didn't go away passively.
Hungry for their first win of the season, the Rockets embarked on a 16-4 run to close within 50-44 on Moter Deng's 3-pointer with 9.7 seconds left. However, Elgin senior guard Arie Williams sank 2 bonus free throws with 4.9 seconds remaining to make it a 3-possession game.
Central (0-7) made it a game by winning the fourth-quarter rebounding battle 14-4, reversing Elgin's 22-13 rebounding advantage through the first 24 minutes.
"In practice all week we've been working hard to get ourselves out of the hole we've obviously dug for ourselves," said Central 6-9 junior center Duncan Ozburn, who grabbed 5 of his 9 rebounds in the final period. "But I think we played like a team in the second half. We just have to play the entire game like that and we'll have a good season."
Deng scored 7 of his team-high 13 points in the fourth quarter, when Central employed a box-and-one defense to outscore the Maroons 16-6.
With the toughest part of their schedule in the rearview mirror, the Rockets aim to reboot their season when the Big Northern East slate begins Saturday against visiting Rockford Christian. It marks the start of an eight-day span in which Central will play 4 games, 3 of them against BN-East competition.
"We're trying to be as positive as we can," Central coach Brett Porto said. "I know it sounds dumb, but we're the best 0-7 team around. If you look at our schedule, Hampshire is going to be around 20 (wins), Rockford Lutheran is going to be plus-20. We've played our murderers' row, and now we're hoping that pays off this weekend and moving forward with the rest of the season."
Meanwhile, Elgin quickly turns its attention to the first of 2 matchups against the rival Royals without benefit of a practice.
"Honestly, we haven't had a practice for Larkin because we don't practice ahead for games," Mike Sitter said. "We'll have a walk through and watch some film, but not much changes for us. We'll do what we do best: defend in the half court and get out and run if we can."