PEKIN — Basketball life on the road isn't supposed to be easy.
"By far our best half of the year,'' suggested head coach Dave Witzig of visiting Normal Community.
As far as host Pekin was concerned?
"If I were grading us out, an F for sure in the first half and a C-minus at best in the second half,'' admitted Dragons counterpart Jeff Walraven.
It all added up to a 50-40 nonconference win for NCHS on Tuesday night at Dawson Hawkins Gym in a contest not even close as the final score indicated.
CJ Christian scored 13 of his game-high 23 points in the opening quarter as NCHS (4-2) bolted to a 15-0 lead in the first 4:31, went up 19-4 by the end of the stanza and was in cruise control at 32-9 by halftime in its first true road appearance of the season.
"Pekin is not an easy place to get a win,'' Witzig said. "But I thought our defense did a great job getting deflections and steals right out of the gate.''
NCHS hit 8 of its first 10 shots, while Pekin misfired on its first four shots coupled with an equal number of turnovers as Walraven was forced to burn two early timeouts.
"Normal Community is very athletic, and they just body up on defense and completely took us out of our rhythm offensively,'' he said. "I'm not sure if it was mental or physical, but we were never in the game.''
The gap widened to 36-11 on a Jalen Coleman basket 1:15 into the third quarter before the hosts (2-4) eventually battled back to within 38-24 by the end of the frame.
Justin Taphorn's trey made it 44-33, but Daylen Boddie's steal and floor length 3-point play with 2:49 left in the game restored the margin to 14 that remained in double digits for the duration.
NCHS eventually cooled and finished 21 of 39 from the floor for 53.8 percent. The Ironmen also held a 26-16 rebound edge to offset 20 turnovers.
"We had a tough (Big 12) conference loss (to Champaign Central) Friday night,'' Witzig continued. "But I thought our defense came out and set the tone right away, and our offense fed off of that as well."
CJ Wilbourn, a 6-foot-7 junior, added 10 points and a team-high seven rebounds for the Ironmen, while Coleman and Boddie chipped in eight and six points respectively.
Pekin shot just 33 percent (15 of 45), including 4 of 19 from 3-point range.
"We're a perimeter team and we didn't shoot well,'' Walraven said. "But you're not going to shoot well when you don't execute your plays.''
"You can't give them (Pekin) open looks (on the perimeter) or they'll beat you,'' Witzig said. "I thought we did a real nice job of taking that away.''
Jace Link and Christian Hill led Pekin with eight points each, while Jack Halstead netted seven.