CHAMPAIGN — Judging by the disparity in heights and muscle mass, No. 12-state ranked Champaign Central High School's basketball team looked like a 30-point favorite over Normal Community at Combes Gym Friday night.
The Maroons' halftime advantage of 37-20 did nothing to dispel that opinion, but somebody forgot to let the Ironmen in on the plan as they clawed within 51-41 with 2:00 left.
Reality ultimately set in, though, as Champaign Central sank 7 of 10 free throws in the final 1:53 to secure a 60-41 Big 12 Conference victory.
"They got the 10-0 run (to end the game) that we wanted to have," lamented NCHS coach Dave Witzig, whose team fell to 4-7 overall and 1-3 in the league.
"They are the real deal. They are very good. They are well-coached. They have good inside players and then you collapse on the inside players and they are able to kick it out to good 3-point shooters."
The Maroons (11-2, 3-0) won their 11th consecutive game behind the 12-point, seven-rebound effort of 6-foot-4 Spencer Johnson and the 11-point, five-rebound effort of 6-1 Verdell Jones.
Jones, a sophomore, had three of his team's five 3-pointers.
Jordan Lee added 10 points for the Maroons, who outshot their guests from the field, 55 percent to 35 percent.
"They have a lot of components and they could really make a nice run (in the postseason)," Witzig said.
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Dan Frantz and Craig Lutes led NCHS with 12 and 10 points, respectively. Marcus King added seven rebounds and Lutes six as the Ironmen lost the battle of the boards, 34-24.
"They have good defensive pressure and they own the offensive and defensive boards," Witzig said.
The Ironmen owned the third quarter, 11-8, with help from a press.
"We were trying to get some easy buckets," Witzig said. "We needed to do some things to try to get a bounce in our step. I thought Dan Frantz had a good game for us tonight."
Champaign's 6-5 Damien Henderson electrified the home crowd with the play of the game, dunking an alley oop pass from Lee with 3:55 left in the third quarter to put his team up 43-26.
"We've been dunked on before," Witzig said. "That was a nice play by them, but it was just two points."
A 6-0 run by NCHS on back-to-back baskets by Frantz followed by a steal and layup by Sheldon Harper pulled the Ironmen within 49-37, forcing Champaign to use its delay game the final 4:35.
"I just felt we lacked the intensity and the effort in the second half," said Champaign coach Scott Davis. "I told them 'my expectations for you guys is really high. I've seen you play for 32 minutes at a level higher than the one you played at tonight.' We were fortunate we hit free throws at the end."