Do or Die: Eisenhower, MacArthur prep for playoff showdown

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DECATUR -- Twice this season the city of Decatur's two flagship squads have gone against each other, and twice Eisenhower and MacArthur have come down to the wire.

The difference has been just five points, but for MacArthur those five points have meant two losses. Eisenhower took the first meeting in overtime 94-91, then this past week at MacArthur the Panthers (21-7) prevailed again, 69-67.

"Oh man it hurt, it hurt me the first time," senior guard Randy Thaxton, Jr. said of his initial encounter with a loss in the rivalry. "Matter of fact it was my sophomore year with Kamari Jones and 'Trez Spates, and it hurt me ever since then. But we're gonna come out with the 'W' on Wednesday."

To get that win on Wednesday in the 3A Taylorville regional semifinal, the Generals will need Thaxton's steady presence with the ball in his hand. They'll also rely on a heavy dose of "Brummett Magic" from twins Amir (18 points) and Armon (22), who combined for 40 points last time around, while Armon finished with 32 in "Round One". Junior guard Keenan Ingram is also coming off a strong game of 17 points this past Tuesday. Perhaps most importantly for the Generals will be staying out of foul trouble, which has been an issue at times for the talented squad.

"It's a lot of motivation right there," MacArthur head coach Ron Ingram said. "My boys are ready, they talk about it all the time, winning this last game. Those other games mean a lot, you know, rivalry games and everything, but this game right here is going to send somebody home ... Somebody's going to be buying tickets for the next game."

Eisenhower would figure to have the "final game" hunger on its side, given it has more seniors in its rotation than the junior-laden Generals, but MacArthur (17-11) put in a hard practice on Tuesday that would suggest other than coasting into the playoffs.

Plus if we've learned anything about the Panthers this season, it's to not mistake their smiles as a sign of softness.

Time after time they've answered the call, and the program finished with its first 20-win year for the first time since 2007-08. Coach Rodney Walker's team is playing some of its best basketball as of late, rattling off eight straight wins entering Wednesday's 7 p.m. tipoff at Taylorville High School.

Eisenhower's offense is dangerous in that the frequently-substituting, pace-pushing Panthers can have any of four or five players playing the role of the "alpha scorer" in any given game. Quylan Young had 22 points in the first meeting, 12 points in the second, while Stephon Bobbitt posted 18 in the first meeting. One player who's been the hottest against MacArthur this season is wing Yansyn Taylor, whose 23 and 26 points led the Panthers in that pair of games. The 6-foot-3 junior has evolved from a role player off the bench last season to a deadly long-range threat and then some -- he's beefed up his arsenal getting to the rim this year, too.

"We've always known Yansyn was a great scorer," Eisenhower coach Rodney Walker said. "Our biggest thing was making him fall in love with defense. Now he's starting to learn the game. Now he's getting out there and getting grimy. That's letting up his offensive end a little bit now."

Yansyn, who tells WAND Sports' Gordon Voit that his name game to his mother in a dream, has been a veritable dream for the Panthers, who already boasted playmakers like Young, Bobbitt and Stefon Jarrett before Taylor blossomed. His ability to stretch defenses with his 3-point shot has added to that arsenal.

"It's going to take us to play harder," Taylor said, "We can't be playing the same way we've been playing lately. We have to keep up the energy. We have to play smart."

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