BLOOMINGTON — The first-game jitters went away in the second half Monday night for Normal West High School’s basketball team. So did the Wildcats’ halftime deficit.
West outscored Central Catholic 25-8 in the third quarter, turning a 25-19 hole into a 44-33 lead on the way to a 70-63 victory in the opening round of the 48th Intercity Basketball Tournament at Shirk Center.
Senior guard Shea Cupples and junior forward Cole Hernandez scored 18 points each to lead the Wildcats.
“A lot of it in the first half was us just not being very aggressive,” the 6-foot-3 Hernandez said. “Just ball fakes and drives … we needed to do a lot more of that in the second half.”
In the second game, Normal Community and University High had a back-and-forth battle that saw the game tied with under two minutes to go. A layup by NCHS’ Dishon Hall II broke the tie with 1:30 left and the Ironmen went on to a 59-56 victory.
The tournament continues Wednesday with U High facing Bloomington at 6 p.m. and Central taking on NCHS at 7:30.
West had nine first-quarter turnovers and 13 at halftime. The Wildcats had no turnovers in the pivotal third quarter and made 9 of 11 shots from the field.
“Offensively we were just really passive the first half,” West coach Brian Cupples said. “We weren’t aggressive with the ball and looking to get ball movement and drive it. We did a better job in the third quarter, got the lead and then I thought we did a good job with the lead.”
Shea Cupples, the coach’s son, scored all 18 of his points in the second half. Junior Evan Hutson added 17 for the Wildcats, who were 16 of 21 from the field in the final two quarters after going 6 of 19 in the first half.
“That’s so nice to have … three guys in double figures,” Brian Cupples said.
Senior guard Luke Yoder scored 18 points to lead Central. Sophomore guard J.T. Welch made five 3-pointers and scored 16, while senior forward Tommy Nelson had 15 points.
“I thought they did a good job coming out of halftime,” Saints’ coach Jason Welch said. “Their kids were relaxed and ready to play. I thought we hit the panic button a little bit.
“We just didn’t play good basketball in the third quarter. They broke away from us and then they did a good job of keeping it at arm’s length.”
Hall’s basket came after U High junior guard Alex Wood nailed the second of his two huge fourth-quarter 3-pointers, tying the game at 56-all with 1:45 to go.
The Ironmen ran a play that freed Hall inside.
“I thought our guys executed well at the end,” NCHS coach Dave Witzig said. “We ran a real nice play for Dishon to get the lead. It was just how Coach (Matt) Schweinberg and Coach (Nathan) Foster drew it up.
“We were hoping to come out looking sharper on the defensive end. But we made some good plays down the stretch.”
Senior point guard Daylen Boddie led the Ironmen with 15 points, while 6-7 Wisconsin-Milwaukee recruit CJ Wilbourn added 12, Hall 10 and Evan Pogge nine.
Witzig said his team had difficulty guarding U High, which received 19 points from Wood, 16 from Nate Torres and 12 from Drew Wollenschlager.
“It was hard to stop them,” Witzig said. “We take pride in our defense and they really had a pretty easy time. We’re glad we won, but we saw a lot of things we need to work on.”
U High led 12-10 after one quarter but trailed 32-27 at the half. The Pioneers took a 53-52 lead with 3:15 to go on a long 3-pointer by Wood.
“It was a great high school basketball game,” U High coach Andrew McDowell said. “They ran some action (at the end) that we didn’t quite defend very well. They made enough 3s during the game that they spread us out and got that flex cut on the right block to take the lead.
“Our kids are frustrated. They wanted to win for sure. But this isn’t the state championship. It’s the first step in our journey, and I thought we took a good step forward.”