BLOOMINGTON — With its lockdown defense producing double-digit leads, Normal Community High School's basketball team completed its run in the State Farm Holiday Classic with a decisive knockout.
All-tournament selection C.J. Christian led a trio of Ironmen in double figures in a 58-46 triumph over second-seeded Chicago North Lawndale in the large school boys championship game late Saturday, the last of the day's final-round eight contests at Shirk Center.
"This whole tournament it's been about mental focus," said Christian, a 6-foot-1 senior forward. "Our coaches told us to keep with it and stay focused and we could get the win."
Six-seven junior center C.J. Wilbourn added 12 points and junior guard Daylen Boddie added 11 for the fifth-seeded Ironmen, who improved to 12-2. Christian and Boddie each had eight rebounds.
"At the beginning of the season, Coach said defense is our DNA," Boddie said after NCHS held North Lawndale to 13 of 43 shooting — including 6 of 23 from 3-point range. "That's how we win games with defense and that's the way we have to play the whole game."
Senior guard David Forrest had 12 points as the only player in double figures for the Phoenix (10-2).
"We were able to stay in front of their drivers and we got out on their shooters. To hold them to 46 points was a great defensive effort for us," said NCHS coach Dave Witzig.
"I thought they were tougher than us," said Phoenix coach Lewis Thorpe. "That was the key to the game, toughness. They were tougher than us and they played like they wanted it more than we did."
The Ironmen never trailed in the second half, widening a two-point cushion to 10 at 42-32 when Jalen Coleman flushed a dunk off an assist from Wilbourn on an inbounds play from the opposite baseline.
North Lawndale's entire third quarter output consisted of two Demetrius Douglas free throws and a 3-pointer by Marquise Earskines, matching its five-point first quarter. The Phoenix got no closer than six the rest of the way.
"We felt like the second half was exactly what we needed to do, handle the ball well enough to not let them get fastbreak layups, run our offense and then our defense was great," said Witzig.
After the lead alternated on the first five baskets, NCHS got hot and finished the quarter on a 17-0 run for a 21-5 advantage. The Ironmen made 8 of 11 shots in the first eight minutes while limiting the Phoenix to just 2 of 10 accuracy.
But the tables turned in the second quarter. Five NCHS turnovers resulted in a 17-3 surge by North Lawndale. Rayion Williams finished the run with a trey that cut the deficit to 24-23.
"Coach just said we had to keep our composure," said Boddie. "The team didn't panic because that's part of the game; people make runs and we'll make runs too."
The Phoenix took the lead at 30-28 on a 3 by Isaiah Thomas with 1:18 left in the half, but NCHS answered with a basket in the paint by Wilbourn and a fastbreak layup by Boddie to take a two-point advantage into halftime.
"They scored 25 points in that second quarter and 25 points is a lot in a high school basketball game. North Lawndale has the ability to score like that," said Witzig.
"I felt like the last two nights especially we competed at a high level and focused on what we needed to do. It was a fun four-day stretch for our team."
University High's Alex Wood joined Christian on the all-tourney squad.