BLOOMINGTON — When his team's 10-point lead disappeared with a minute to play Saturday, Normal Community High School junior CJ Wilbourn wound up in the perfect spot at the right time.
Wilbourn's tiebreaking putback off a Daylen Boddie miss with 2.1 seconds left helped Normal Community come away with a 53-50 win over rival Normal West on the fourth night of the 47th Intercity Boys Basketball Tournament at Shirk Center.
"I just saw 'Day-day' come in and try to take a good shot and it was just a little short," said Wilbourn. "I went in and attacked the boards like my coach tells me to do every day in practice."
With the win, NCHS improved to 3-0 and set up a winner-take-all matchup with Bloomington for the title in Monday's 6 p.m. contest. The Purple Raiders (3-0) got 18 points apiece from Patrick Fisher and Donzell Johnson and notched an 80-52 win over U High in Saturday's second game.
"That's what we want and that's what they want," BHS coach Micheal Mosley said of facing NCHS. "They're really physical and athletic. We've just got to keep them in front of us, contest shots and box out."
"We're just looking to keep getting better," said NCHS coach Dave Witzig. "It's always fun to play (BHS) and see what we can do."
West (1-2) will play Central Catholic (0-3) in Monday's second game. The Pioneers finished the round-robin at 1-3.
NCHS led 38-28 late in the third quarter and 48-39 with 2:22 remaining when West began making a charge. After a 3-pointer by Shea Cupples got the Wildcats within 50-48, Drew Wollenschlager scored off a turnover to tie the game.
NCHS tried to hold for a final shot, but Boddie's attempt was off target. Wilbourn came in from the right side around West standout Francis Okoro to grab the carom and convert an open layup.
"Wilbourn's done a great job. He does a good job on defense and he can do a lot of things for us on offense," said Witzig.
"All these games in the Intercity are always crazy like this, and every time we play West it's crazy. We're glad to gut it out and it's good to play these (kinds) games in November. It's something to build on."
After Wilbourn's basket, West coach Brian Cupples tried to set up his team for a last-second shot, but the Wildcats' inbounds pass went awry on the sideline and NCHS tacked on a free throw.
"Credit my kids, but that's (only) a moral victory. We've got to quit having moral victories and not have lapses in the middle of the game," said Coach Cupples. "Just too many turnovers early in the game, we shot ourselves in the foot."
Boddie scored 17 points to lead the Ironmen while Wilbourn and CJ Christian contributed 12 apiece. Wilbourn also drew the defensive assignment on Okoro, who finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds.
"I just had to play straight up," said Wilbourn. "He's really good, big and strong. I had to play straight up and do the best I can."
Shea Cupples complemented Okoro with 12 points, including three shots from beyond the arc.
Consecutive treys by Boddie and Christian pushed NCHS to a 15-5 lead, but West countered by finishing the quarter on a 10-0 run capped by two Okoro free throws.
The Wildcats extended their lead to 20-17 on Okoro's long jumper from above the key, but the Ironmen answered with their own closing touch.
Christian made his second consecutive running layup with 1:30 left in the half to give NCHS a 21-20 lead. It came during an 11-0 run as Blake Foster's 3-pointer off an inbounds play with 10 seconds left closed the half with NCHS ahead 28-20.
"When you get easy points, fastbreak points against West's help zone, that's a big help because it's hard to score on them 5-on-5," said Witzig. "Those points were huge for us."
Junior Chris Payton, an Illinois State recruit, added 14 points for the Purple Raiders, who connected on nine shots from 3-point range with Johnson making 4 of 5.
"We knew that we could shoot the basketball. Patrick hit his first one and that was a big one, then Donzell got hot," said Mosley. "We know we can shoot, it's just a matter of us staying consistent."
Alex Wood paced the Pioneers with 12 points.
"We knew they were going to make their run, they always make their run," said U High coach Andrew McDowell. "We just couldn't let it jump into more than what it should've been. It can't be as big as it got.
"We've got to run our offense better and execute when a team is on a run. We're going to learn from it; we need to be better in those situations and we will be next time."
After a back-and-forth first quarter that saw the lead change seven times, BHS seized control with a 17-3 run that produced a 34-18 advantage. The lead grew to 41-26 by halftime and Payton's dunk on a pass off the backboard made it 49-30 early in the third.
"Our defense drove our energy; that's probably the best we've guarded on the ball," said Mosley. "We gave a lot of center drives up, but our intensity was there. We've got some things we've got to fix before Monday."