NORMAL - The last time the Bloomington and Normal Community high school basketball teams met, it wasn't a fair fight.
Several of NCHS' key players had just joined the team after being members of the Ironmen football team that reached the Class 6A state championship game. Not surprisingly, BHS easily handled the short-handed Ironmen 54-39 on the final night of the Intercity Tournament.
The Ironmen will be at full strength for tonight's 7:45 Big 12 Conference battle at the NCHS gymnasium, and emotions will be running high as usual when the fierce rivals square off. Although he is anxiously awaiting the rematch with the Purple Raiders, NCHS coach Dave Witzig wants his team to keep the game in perspective.
"It's always exciting to play Bloomington," Witzig said. "It's good to have a Friday home game, and it will be a great crowd. We also understand it's not the most important game of the season, either. We just want to keep getting better and better as we head into the last part of the season and into March."
It will be the second emotionally charged game in four days for BHS, which is coming off a 49-43 road win at Normal West on Tuesday night. The victory improved the Raiders to 15-5 overall and 7-2 in the Big 12. BHS coach Ron Rose could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Normal Community (8-14, 3-6) has won two straight, including a 64-57 win at Champaign Centennial on Tuesday. The Ironmen shot 61 percent from the field against Centennial in their highest-scoring output of the season.
"We have three games this week, and it was nice to start off with a win," said Witzig, whose team will play at Pekin on Saturday. "It's a great competitive weekend for us. We shot the ball well on Tuesday and hopefully that will continue."
BHS junior guard Justin Bocot ranks fourth in The Pantagraph area in scoring with a 19.6 average. Junior center Lonnie Lawrence (10.0 ppg) and junior guard Cory Hainlen (8.9 ppg) are the Purple Raiders' other top offensive threats.
"What concerns me most is they have so many offensive weapons," Witzig said. "And when the shot goes up, you have to know where Lonnie Lawrence is. He's one of better rebounders I've seen.
"At the other end, they do a good job of defending us. They know us so well and they get out and pressure us. We'll have to do a good job of taking care of the ball, and on defense we have to make them take a tough shot and box out Lawrence."
Senior guard Craig Lutes is averaging a team-high 11.1 points for NCHS, and senior guard Sheldon Harper is at 8.8. The Ironmen rank fourth in the area in scoring defense at 47.1 points per game.
BHS has won five straight regular-season games over NCHS. The Ironmen beat BHS 54-50 in overtime last season in the championship game of the Normal West Class AA Regional.