NORMAL — Football season is officially over at Normal Community High School. The basketball team made that clear Saturday night with a 55-40 victory over Mattoon at the NCHS Gym.
Two weeks after the Ironmen played in the Class 6A state championship football game, seniors Sheldon Harper and Craig Lutes led an efficient effort on the hardwood. Harper and Lutes scored 13 points apiece, leading a balanced attack in which all 11 NCHS players who dressed scored.
The Ironmen (1-4, 1-2) were playing their first game in 11 days and only the second since eight of their players finished football season. Still, they were not at full strength, with regulars Marcus King, Alex Buck and Jake Detmers in street clothes because of injuries.
"It was good to have a game tonight and it was great to be in a winning locker room again. It's been awhile since we've been in one," NCHS coach Dave Witzig said. "Craig Lutes and Sheldon Harper played great defense and provided the offense we needed."
The 6-foot-1 Harper had nine of his points in the third quarter, helping NCHS extend a 24-16 halftime lead to 42-24. Twice he scored on layups after steals at midcourt.
"Coach told us to pressure the ball a lot more (in the second half)," Harper said. "That just came with the pressure. Right now we have a hard time playing offense. But we played good defense so we could push the ball and get some layups."
Harper also had a team-high nine rebounds, while the 6-0 Lutes had five assists, three steals and three rebounds.
Sophomore guards Aaron Garriott and Chris Lawson added seven and six points, respectively, for NCHS, which shot 47 percent from the field (21 of 45), made 13 of 23 free throws and had 12 turnovers.
The Ironmen forced 19 Mattoon turnovers, including eight in the pivotal third quarter.
"The team that won was the team that played the hardest and played together as a group," Mattoon coach Bob Lockart said. "They looked a step quicker in everything they did.
"They beat us to loose balls, beat us up and down the floor, beat us to the glass and beat us off the dribble. I tip my hat to them. They play hard."
Mattoon (0-4, 0-3) shot 35 percent from the field and was led by 6-4 senior Adam Heuerman's 12 points and 11 rebounds. No other Green Wave player scored in double figures.
"We were concerned about Heuerman," Witzig said. "I thought Jason Vincent, Aaron Ahart and Dan Frantz did a good job of limiting him.
"We knew they had a good post player, so we wanted to pressure their guards and make it hard to throw it in there. By doing that, we got some easy layups off our defense."