BLOOMINGTON — The Central Catholic High School basketball team received some lofty plaudits following its inaugural Illini Prairie Conference appearance on Friday night.
"They've got a really balanced team and when it's all said and done, they might be the best team in (the state in Class) 2A," said Tolono Unity coach Matt Reed. "We'll fnd out."
Reed got a first-hand glimpse of the Saints' capabilities in Central's 94-54 victory at Cvengros Gym.
Central had balanced scoring with five players in double figures. The buckets came from long range (seven 3-pointers), from inside with the Saints shredding the Unity interior defense and, most notably, easy layins created by steals and turnovers facilitated by a pesky Central press.
"I felt our speed on defense could bother them and we went out after them a little bit and were able to get them to turn it over," said Central coach Jason Welch, who saw the Saints improve to 9-5 overall while handing Unity only its second loss of the season.
"We pressured the ball awfully nice and sped them up a little bit and consequently we were able to get some easy shots," Welch said.
Unity (11-2) committed nine first period turnovers, but was still trailing by only three points in the closing seconds. A steal by Central's Luke Yoder, who then buried a pull-up jumper at the buzzer, gave the Saints a 17-12 lead at the quarter break.
The steals began to take their toll on the Rockets in the second quarter with Central opening the period with an 8-0 run, thanks in part to another Yoder steal for a score and a swipe and nifty spinning layin by Austyn Ellison.
Central also got a boost from Eli Davis, who came off the bench to score 10 second-quarter points to help Central double up on Unity four times before settling for a 45-26 halftime lead.
"It was a good team win," said Davis, who added a pair of second half 3-pointers to end with 16. "Our teammates were moving the ball so well, we had so many people getting into the paint and passing it around, it made it easy for everyone on the team to get open shots and get good looks."
Senior James Morris led Central with 20 points. Ellison had 13 while Yoder and Jack Gilmore added 12 each.
"Offensively, it was completely unselfish," said Welch. "It seemed like every guy made that extra pass. When that happens and all you care about is the final outcome, you've got the opportunity to be a good basketball team and win some games."
The Saints opened the second half with a 9-1 run and by the end of the third quarter had taken a 69-43 lead after earlier leading by 31.
With reserves playing most of the fourth quarter, Central continued to outscore Unity in pulling away to the 40-point victory,
"If you let your foot off the pedal just for a moment against a team like that, they'll go on a run and you're in trouble," said Reed. "We've just got to flush this one and go on to next game."
Tolono's J.T. Wheeler, the Rockets' scoring leader, finished with 19 points.