By MATT SCHUCKMAN
Herald-Whig Sports Editor
Garret Covington is giving Western Illinois University basketball fans a reason to be excited about next year.
It's the same reason Edwardsville fans are clinging to hope this year.
Covington continued his consistently strong play by scoring 21 points in the Tigers' 66-43 dismantling of Collinsville in Southwestern Conference play. Covington, who has already signed a national letter of intent with the Leathernecks, is averaging 18.4 points and eight rebounds per game.
Better yet, he's shooting 58.6 percent from 3-point range (17 of 29) in Edwardsville's 5-0 start. The rest of the Tigers are following suit as Edwardsville is averaging 69 points per game and shooting 52 percent from 3-point range as a team.
"They're as talented a team as I've ever coached against," veteran Collinsville coach Darin Lee told the Belleville News-Democrat. "I've been around a while and I haven't seen too many like that."
Slowly coming together: The defending Class 3A state champion soon will be back to full strength.
Maybe then Peoria Central can turn the tide.
The Lions are off to a 1-3 start following last Saturday's loss to Champaign Centennial in the SportsRadio 1450 Shootout in Springfield. It's been a tough road with head coach Dan Ruffin serving a five-game suspension and senior forward Josh Augusta missing a bulk of action while on football recruiting visits.
Augusta, a 6-foot-5, 300-pound defensive end/tight end, is expected to make his college decision soon -- national letter of intent signing day is Feb. 6, but teams like to have their recruiting classes complete well in advance -- which will allow him to concentrate solely on basketball.
Meanwhile, Ruffin will miss his final game Friday when the Lions play their rivalry game at Peoria Manual. According to the Peoria Journal Star, Ruffin was suspended days before the season opener in the Decatur Thanksgiving tournament.
Peoria Central athletic director Brien Dunphy told the Journal Star he could only confirm Ruffin was suspended, and it would be for five games. According to the Journal Star, it was unclear if the disciplinary action came from Central administration, the school district's central office or the school board.
Judge has final say: Last week, the Illinois High School Association ruled three players from Mooseheart ineligible.
Tuesday, a Kane County judge reversed the ruling.
Judge Dave Akemann ruled the IHSA cannot make the three players -- all are from Sudan -- ineligible until to a hearing with the state's governing athletic body. That hearing is set for next Monday.
Mooseheart is being accused of recruiting the players and could face IHSA sanctions if found in violation of the association's bylaws.
Just how important are the Sudanese players to the Class 1A school's success? Well, Tuesday night, just three hours after the judge's ruling was handed down, Mangisto Deng, Makur Puou and Akim Nyang led Mooseheart to a 53-21 victory over Westminster Christian.
Deng scored 16 points. The 6-foot-10 Puou added 11 points and three dunks and the 7-1 Nyang was a defensive intimidator.
As excited as Mooseheart was to have the three Sudanese players in the lineup, others weren't so enamored with the school's decision to play the three.
"Where is the fairness in the whole situation that existed tonight?" Westminster Christian coach Bruce Firchau told the Chicago Sun-Times. "I bet there was over 200 other 1A schools in the state that are saying the same thing."
Feeling right at home: Rockford East senior Isaiah Box is settling into the nicely.
Playing a key role in a game-clinching spurt will do that.
Box, who transferred from Rockford Christian Life, scored four points and had two assists in an 8-0 spurt that gave Rockford East a 49-40 win last Saturday night against Rockford Jefferson. Box finished with 20 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter.
That was after a scoreless first quarter in which he committed two turnovers.
"I think he's still just adjusting to this level of play," East coach Roy Sackmaster told the Rockford Register Star. "He's done this a couple of times where it takes him until midway through the game."
Team to beat: Champaign Centennial let it be known it intends to be the Big 12 Conference champion.
Just how did the Chargers do that?
They dismantled the defending league champs.
Last Friday, Centennial ran out to a 23-5 lead on Normal Community and didn't let up, throttling the Ironmen 70-41. The Chargers knocked down 12 3-pointers and had three players in double figures, including 6-foot-9 junior Michael Finke, who has received scholarship offers from Illinois, Iowa, Purdue and Wisconsin.
"They got the opening tip, scored on their first possession and continued to score all night long," Ironemen coach Dave Witzig told the Bloomington Pantagraph. "We just had no answers for them. They knocked down some open looks early and kept rolling. We just really couldn't stop them."