NORMAL — Prior to Friday night's Unit 5 rivalry game, Normal Community High School honored its 2003-04 basketball team. The first to win a regional under head coach Dave Witzig, those Ironmen went 22-8 and established a record-setting standard for defense.
The current Ironmen must have been paying attention.
They went out and held Normal West to 25 percent field goal shooting in a 43-28 Big 12 Conference victory.
"We played great defense," Witzig said. "They're the kind of team you can't give them open looks, because Shea Cupples hits a couple and it's six points.
"We had to keep grinding on the offensive end. It's not easy. The second half we did a better job of getting the ball in the paint and then we got a kick out to Blake (Foster). It was a grind it out game and we're happy to come out with the win."
NCHS (13-3, 4-1) received 14 points and five rebounds from 6-foot-7 senior CJ Wilbourn while posting their second win over West this year. The first was a 59-49 victory in the season-opening Intercity Tournament.
Wilbourn's three-point play with 3:57 remaining capped a 10-0 NCHS run to start the fourth quarter. That turned a 29-23 lead after three quarters into a 39-23 cushion.
"At halftime coach told us to pound it in the paint and get shots," Wilbourn said. "We didn't make all the shots in the paint, but it helped us out offensively. Getting it in the paint and attacking was big."
Wilbourn said the Ironmen felt good after the surge, but not comfortable against their arch rival.
"We knew we had to keep it up," he said. "West does a great job of fighting, so we had to keep playing hard."
West (5-11, 1-4) was within 27-23 late in the third quarter, but a rebound basket at the buzzer by point guard Daylen Boddie gave NCHS its six-point lead. The Wildcats then missed their first six shots of the fourth quarter during the Ironmen's pivotal run.
"We had two good looks there. We had an open 3 and an open two in the middle of the lane," West coach Brian Cupples said. "Hey, my guys want to make them. We just didn't shoot well.
"We gave up 43 points. I would have taken that (before the game). But they're good defensively. Give them credit. But Terance Fisher is going to make shots. Carson Camp is going to make shots. They didn't make them tonight, but they're going to. We gave good effort. But when the ball doesn't go in the hole and you score 28 points, you're not going to win."
Dishon Hall II added nine points and five rebounds for NCHS, while Boddie had seven points, five rebounds and four assists.
Witzig also liked the play of senior guard Drew Kagel, who he said "gave us good energy off the bench."
"It was one of those games where they were hanging around and you just felt like they were going to make a run," Witzig said. "Luckily they never did and we're the ones who pushed the lead up.
"When we play these games whoever gets to 40 first usually wins and so we got to 40 first. It's a slugfest game and we're glad to get the win."
Shea Cupples scored 11 to lead West, while Cole Hernandez added eight.
"My guys played hard," Brian Cupples said. "They got four offensive rebounds late in the third quarter that kind of hurt us and once they got the lead, they're too disciplined to chase."
The Ironmen led 17-14 at the half behind seven points from Wilbourn. NCHS had a 14-6 advantage in the second quarter, but a 3-pointer by Evan Hutson and a jumper in the lane by Hernandez.
Foster hit a 3 to give NCHS a 17-11 edge, but Hernandez's 3 just before the halftime buzzer pulled the Wildcats within three.
West was within three at the half despite shooting 5 of 18 from the field. Four of the Wildcats baskets were from 3-point range. NCHS was 6 of 15 from the floor and 4 of 6 at the free throw line.