Cameron Cornelius knew what his role was Friday night. It wasn't to lead Derby in scoring, as he has during the basketball season.
Instead, he drew the defensive assignment of Salina Central's 6-foot-8-inch leading scorer Alex Williams.
Cornelius helped hold Williams down as Derby held off Salina Central 46-45 at Derby.
"That was a tough one, (Central) never gave up and we had to earn every bit of that game," Derby coach Ryan Herrs said. "I was proud of our guys for the effort they gave because a lot of times there we made mistakes and could have hung our heads."
Trailing 45-43, Trayce Cornejo made a three to put Derby ahead 46-45 with 1:14 left.
Central missed several chances late to come back.
Scottie Gardner missed a wide-open layup with 40 seconds left. Shay Wooten missed both free throws after being fouled with 10 seconds left.
After Kyler Steadman missed the front end of a one-and-one, a last-second 3/4-court heave by Devon James missed at the buzzer.
It was the defensive effort by Cornelius — who finished with four points, 12 below his season average — that was the difference.
Williams scorched the Panthers in their first meeting, scoring 25 points, but Cornelius held him to 13 points Friday. The defensive effort was worth the scoring sacrifice for Cornelius.
"I'll take win over points any day," Cornelius said. "Drop 20 with a loss, no. Drop zero and win, yes."
There were six ties and 10 lead changes in the back-and-forth game.
Central controlled the first 10 minutes of the game, building a 14-8 lead.
Derby then made a charge led by its defense, going on a 9-1 run capped by a steal and layup by Maqueiz Tucker. Derby led 21-19 at half.
Derby built a 28-22 lead midway through the third quarter with another steal and layup by Tucker.
It was Derby's defensive effort all night that Herrs loved to see.
"If we don't guard we're not in games," Herrs said. "These kids love it, they love guarding... thank goodness because we'd be in a lot of trouble if they didn't."
Salina Central (4-4) 9 10 12 14 — 45 Derby (5-2) 6 15 10 15 — 46
SALINA CENTRAL: Wooten 14, Williams 13, Dallas 6, James 5, Gardner 5, Norwood 2. Totals 17 (3) 8-19 45.
DERBY: Tucker 12, Cornejo 10, Z. Steadman 9, Richardson 8, Cornelius 4, K. Steadman 3. Totals 19 (5) 3-5 46.