BLOOMINGTON — When Jake Reinhart swished a 3-pointer to give Central Catholic High School a 27-9 lead early in the second quarter Friday, Keita Bates-Diop knew what University High needed to do.
“We’ve got to pick it up, me, the team, everyone has to start playing harder,” Bates-Diop remembered saying to himself.
The Pioneers responded. Bates-Diop scored a game-high 21 points as U High scored the last five points to squeak out a 54-50 victory over the Saints before a packed crowd at Cvengros Gymnasium. The Pioneers (20-3), ranked No. 8 in the Class 3A state poll, clinched their third straight Corn Belt Conference title with their 40th straight league win in moving to 12-0 this season.
“The postseason is supposed to be a couple weeks away,” said U High coach Bob Fitzgerald. “But, you know, you want to play in these types of games at this time of year. Those are things that get you prepared.”
Nick Norton scored on a drive to give Central Catholic (16-5, 7-3) a 50-49 lead with 1:19 left. As expected, U High went to Bates-Diop and the 6-foot-7 Ohio State recruit rolled in a 16-foot jumper with 58 seconds left to put the Pioneers back in the lead.
Central Catholic tried to get the ball inside, but couldn’t convert. Trashawn Boyd sank two free throws to give the Pioneers a 53-50 lead with 17.9 seconds left and after the Saints missed a 3-pointer which could have tied the game, Boyd made another free throw for the final margin.
Malik Wildermuth contributed 18 points and six rebounds for U High, which cut the deficit to 31-25 at halftime before taking a 41-40 lead into the fourth quarter.
“I know Keita and Malik had the points tonight, but credit goes to Trayshwan, Joe Johnson, Tyler May,” said Fitzgerald, whose team forced 13 turnovers. “I thought those guys just busted their butts on the defensive end and did a good job containing their guards and limiting open looks.”
Reinhart led the Saints with 20 points. Nick Norton was shadowed all night by Bates-Diop and was limited to 11 points.
“We were expecting that. There’s some good things about that,” said Central Catholic coach Jason Welch. “He (Bates-Diop) works on defense. Clearly that’s a good thing for us. Also, Nick is away from the basket so that takes away a rebounder. We thought that was a good match for us.”
After the Saints made five of six shots and 8 of 11 free throws in the first quarter to take an 18-7 lead, Fitzgerald decided to play zone. But two 3-pointers by Reinhart and another by Norton had the Saints up by 18 and U High went back to its man-to-man defense.
“They fought their butts off and hit us in the chin in the first quarter,” said Fitzgerald. “We weren’t doing anything. We weren’t guarding and we weren’t moving the ball real well. I thought the last three quarters we really played some good defense and that was the difference in the basketball game.”
Central Catholic shot 50 percent from the field (14 of 28), while U High hit 41.3 percent (19 of 46).
Welch, like Fitzgerald, thought this game will serve the Saints well when Class 2A regionals begin in another week.
“That was a great dress rehearsal for any atmosphere,” he said. “I told our kids before the game how many other 2A schools get that opportunity to play that close to a regional situation. That’s what it’s going to feel like. It didn’t work out on the right side for us tonight, but we’ll take positives and learn from it.”