BLOOMINGTON — When Chris Payton was told his final numbers from Friday night's Big 12 Conference basketball game — 21 points and 19 rebounds – his eyes grew wide.
"Are you serious?" the Bloomington High School 6-foot-6 junior asked, shocked at his career high rebound total. "What did you just say? Are you for real?"
Payton, an Illinois State recruit, also had three slam dunks and two blocks as the Purple Raiders picked up their defense in the second half and earned a 59-45 victory over Champaign Centennial at the Robert Frank Sports Complex.
BHS also received 13 points from Tyler Washington while improving to 12-4 overall and 2-2 in the league.
Centennial (9-9, 0-4), which has lost four straight, trailed 18-17 at halftime before BHS' pressure defense took over.
The Raiders went on a 9-0 run to start the third quarter. Payton started things with a dunk before Donzell Johnson scored on a layup off a steal and a drive. When Patrick Fisher fed Washington for a three-point play, the lead grew to 10 in less than two minutes.
"We were really, really playing at the pace they wanted (in the first half)," said BHS coach Micheal Mosley. "They can spread you out and score the basketball. We were really concerned about that, and when they went zone for a few possessions we were really standing flat-footed.
"Our defense drove us in the third quarter because we wanted to get transition rather than running offense, and it gave us some chances."
The lead grew to 39-25 after Payton split a pair of free throws with 1:26 left in the third quarter. Led by junior guard Bryson Cowper, the Chargers went on a 10-2 run to cut the deficit to 41-35 early in the fourth quarter.
But Centennial couldn't get any closer as Payton scored nine points the rest of the way to clinch BHS' first home win of the season.
Mosley had a simple message for Payton this week.
"Basically he told me to stay inside or stay out of the game, so I'm going to stay inside," said Payton. "A big focal point for me was to stay low and establish my position. I knew they didn't have too many big men who could guard me."
Mosley said he didn't want Payton to become a jump shooter and be so far away from the basket.
"He was a presence in there and he was aggressive," said Mosley.
Washington also was a presence, scoring all six of his points and forcing a couple turnovers in the first three minutes of the third quarter.
"Our thing for him is to stop thinking and try to process especially on our offensive end, just be aggressive, controlled, loose and attack and he really did," said Mosley of the 6-2 junior. "That picked up his defense as well."
BHS shot 41.3 percent from the field while holding the Chargers to 34 percent. Thanks to Payton, the Raiders cleaned up on the boards to a 41-25 advantage. BHS also committed 19 turnovers, four more than Centennial.
"Once we start defending I feel we're one of the best defensive teams Bloomington has ever seen," said Payton. "With our athleticism and length and everything we've got, I feel we should be able to stop any team in the state."
Cowper scored 16 of his 19 points in the second half to pace Centennial. Senior guard Tommy Makabu added 14 points for the Chargers.
BHS starts a stretch of four games in six days when it faces St. Louis Vashon at 4 p.m. Monday in the Vashon MLK Shootout. The Raiders have Big 12 road games at Peoria Manual on Tuesday and Normal Community next Friday before facing Chicago Whitney Young in another shootout.
"We would like to run a couple wins off and get back in thick of things in conference," said Mosley. "We're playing a schedule we know we'll be challenged.
"We're only two games out of the conference race right now and anything can happen. We saw that two years ago. As long as guys continue to play this hard we'll give ourselves a shot."