NORMAL - Bloomington High School junior forward Lonnie Lawrence checked the scoreboard at halftime and saw the Purple Raiders were trailing archrival Normal Community 29-26.
That was totally unacceptable.
"We realized we were playing Normal Community and we can't lose to them no matter where we're at," Lawrence said. "Just the fact we were down greatly motivated us."
Junior forward Justin Bocot poured in 12 of his game-high 26 points in the third quarter to put the Purple Raiders ahead to stay, and BHS held off a late NCHS rally to claim a 67-61 Big 12 Conference victory before an estimated crowd of 1,500 at the NCHS gymnasium.
BHS completed a sweep of the regular-season series with NCHS and improved to 16-5 overall and 8-2 in the Big 12. The Raiders also avenged a 54-50 overtime loss to the Ironmen (8-15, 3-7) in the championship game of last season's Normal West Class AA Regional.
"This was payback for last year," said Bocot, who hit 5 of 6 shots in the pivotal third period. "That's all we were thinking about at the beginning of the game."
NCHS suffered a 54-39 loss to the Raiders in the Intercity Tournament while playing at less than full strength because of its football team's run to the Class 6A state championship game. Friday's rematch was a much different story.
The lead seesawed most of the first half before the Ironmen used a 6-0 run to grab a 29-23 lead. Bocot nailed a 3-pointer from deep in the corner at the buzzer to cut the Raiders' deficit to three, setting the stage for his third-quarter explosion.
Bocot scored from everywhere on the court in the third quarter to spark the Raiders to a 48-40 lead, and BHS opened the final period with a 13-6 spurt to open its biggest lead at 61-46.
"I was feeling it and they weren't finding me on the defensive end," said Bocot, who was 9 of 20 overall and 5 of 10 from 3-point range.
"I didn't do a very good job preparing our guys to guard (Bocot)," said NCHS coach Dave Witzig. "He had way too many easy looks. Then he was able to drive to the basket and find his teammates for easy shots. Justin did a great job and we give him a lot of credit."
NCHS came charging back behind senior guard Craig Lutes and got within six in the final minute as the Raiders missed 6 of their last 12 free throws. NCHS' Sheldon Harper was called for a charging foul on a drive to the basket with 14 seconds left, negating a possible three-point play and sealing the win for BHS.
"Normal is going to play from tip to buzzer," said BHS coach Ron Rose. "Fortunately we had a big enough cushion those mistakes didn't come back to haunt us."
Lawrence contributed 10 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots for BHS, which shot 49 percent (22 of 45) and outrebounded the Ironmen 31-25. Brent Holtz and Ryan Kernes both added eight points, and Kernes gave BHS a big lift inside with six rebounds before fouling out in the final minute.
"It was not a rah-rah halftime speech," Rose said after keeping his team in the locker room until just before the second-half tip-off. "It was more (discussing) some things we weren't doing defensively and some rotations we weren't making that they were taking advantage of.
"I was happy with our kids because they were able to make those adjustments on the fly. In the second half we did a much better job attacking their man to man defense, moving the ball and getting the ball in spots where we needed it."
Lutes netted 12 of his game-high 21 points in the fourth quarter.
"Justin is a great player and he got on a little bit of a roll," Lutes said. "We did our best to stop him, but he got the momentum going for them. We tried to get it back but we just didn't have enough to pull it out. I think we can learn from what happened and get better from it."
Sheldon Harper had 15 points and a game-high nine rebounds for NCHS, and Marcus King added 13 points. NCHS shot 41 percent (22 of 54).
"I'm proud of my guys for fighting to the buzzer, but we can't give up 67 points and expect to win," Witzig said. "We just don't have enough offensive firepower to match them basket for basket."