BLOOMINGTON — A time traveler from the future investigating the moment Justin Safford first gave a glimpse of his potential would have to visit Tuesday night's basketball game at Central Catholic High School.
They would be treated to a breakout, 30-point performance by the 6-foot-8 Saint senior, whose team needed such an effort to hold off relentless Eureka, 78-73.
"Justin is just scratching the surface of the type of player he can be," said Central coach Jeff Wulbrun, whose team improved to 4-2 overall and 3-0 in the Corn Belt Conference.
The highly entertaining affair also featured stellar field goal shooting by both teams and Central's Matt Pelton handing out 12 assists, one shy of the school record.
Eureka (2-3, 0-2) shot 60 percent from the field compared to the Saints at 58 percent.
"That was a great high school game," Wulbrun said. "As a fan, that was a great basketball game to watch. I thought Eureka played very, very well."
The contest was tied a 57 with 6:02 left when Pelton, who finished with 10 points, sank a 3-pointer to put Central ahead to stay. It was a Pelton 3-pointer at the 2:13 mark which pushed the cushion to 69-64.
"They hit some big 3s," said Eureka coach Tim Meiss.
Eureka was still within 74-71 with 33 seconds left when Pelton iced it with a conventional 3-point play.
"I thought Pelton played a great ballgame for us," Wulbrun said. "He ran the offense efficiently. He's a savvy player. He knows what the situation calls for."
Safford, whose previous career high was 14, had two 3-pointers and was 12 of 18 from the field to go with four rebounds.
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"He did a great job against us and they did a great job of finding him," Meiss said.
"That is a great team," said Safford of the Hornets. "I wasn't expecting that. Those guys really played hard. They only had one returning starter (from last year's Elite Eight squad)."
The fast-paced first half saw Central step out to an 8-0 lead before Eureka tied it at 13-13. The Saints had a 39-37 advantage at halftime.
"I thought both of us were playing very good offense," Meiss said.
"I thought they gave us fits," added Wulbrun. "They beat our pressure with penetration. We were just a step late with our help, but I liked the way we pushed the ball on the offensive end."
Josh Brent added 10 points for Central while Paul Kabbes and Tom Norton had nine apiece.
"Both teams attacked," Wulbrun said. "Both teams shot a high percentage. It came down to the very end and what team got a couple of defensive stops. Fortunately, we were able to do that."
Central also was able to make five of eight at the line the final 1:17.
Colin Knapp and Dean Eastman each scored 19 points for Eureka, while 6-5 freshman Jordan Prosser added 16 and Brett Stewart 12.
"Colin did a great job of running the team for us," Meiss said. "He pushed the ball down the floor. He took the big shot when we needed it. He orchestrated the stuff. I can't really say enough about how well I thought he played."
Prosser had a game-high seven rebounds as his team was only outrebounded, 23-18, by the taller Saints.
"Everybody did something," Meiss said. "Nick Eeten had some great hustle plays."