NORMAL — Normal Community West High School’s basketball team swarmed Peoria Notre Dame star Max Bielfeldt with its 2-3 zone defense, often having three players converge on the 6-foot-8 center.
All of the effort and attention kept Bielfeldt from dominating Saturday night’s nonconference game at the West Gym. It could not prevent him from leading the No. 1-ranked team in Class 3A to a 57-46 victory.
Bielfeldt found a way to contribute 21 points, 11 rebounds and a key three-point play for the unbeaten Irish (23-0).
Leading 51-46 with 1:33 left, he grabbed the rebound of a missed free throw and converted his fourth three-point play of the night.
“The game wasn’t over, but that was a huge play,” Wildcats’ coach Brian Cupples said. “Give him credit. It’s not like our guy wanted to give it (the rebound) up. He went and got it and made the play.”
Notre Dame coach Eddie Mathews has come to expect such things from the 230-pound senior, saying simply, “Big players make big plays.”
This one helped the Irish overcome 27 points and four steals by Normal West guard Austin Stewart. The 6-4 junior was 11 of 15 from the field and also had six rebounds.
“Did he miss?” Mathews said. “He was really good.”
Stewart’s two free throws with 2:37 left trimmed the Wildcats’ deficit to 50-46. However, they would not score again while falling to 14-11.
“We all felt this was a big game and we knew we would have to bring our A game,” Stewart said. “I really tried to step it up for my team.
“I think we definitely will get better from this. We’ll learn from the experience.”
West led 18-12 after making all seven of its field goal attempts in the first quarter. The lead was 21-17 before Notre Dame ended the half with a 14-5 run to lead 31-26.
The Wildcats got within 33-31 early in the third quarter, but Bielfeldt’s 12 second-half points kept them at bay.
“I thought we had a bad stretch there in the second quarter. And we kind of panicked with three and a half minutes to go in the fourth,” Cupples said.
“I hope we learn from it. I feel like our team has come a long way. But I have to give them credit. They’re good.”
Hank Mathews, the coach’s son, added 10 points for Notre Dame, which shot 57 percent (20 of 35) to West’s 53 percent (17 of 32).
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