Parking was at a premium outside Central Catholic High School on Tuesday, forcing many drivers to uncover creative solutions to the quandary of where to leave their vehicle.Inside the gymnasium, Saints’ freshman Tom Norton had much less difficulty finding an open space, and Pontiac got stuck in the traffic of an overwhelming Central Catholic second-half performance.
Norton drilled six 3-pointers and senior Matt Pelton set the school career assists record as the Saints turned a three-point third-quarter deficit into a 78-47 victory over Pontiac that earned Central Catholic a share of the Corn Belt Conference championship.
“Two of our goals were to go undefeated at home and win the Corn Belt,” Pelton said. “It feels good to finally have those goals become reality.”
Ranked No. 14 in Class A, the Saints reached the 21-win mark for the first time since 1983 while improving to 21-4 overall and 12-1 in the Corn Belt. Central Catholic shoots for the outright league championship Friday at Prairie Central.
Norton had not played or practiced the last six days because of a groin injury. He got loosened up with three second-quarter 3-pointers and three more in the second half on his way to a game-high 20 points as the Saints won their ninth straight.
“Matt did a tremendous job passing like he always does, and I happened to get most of them,” Norton said. “The second half showed how good we can be when we’re all clicking.”
Pontiac (19-5, 11-2) led 38-35 after a 31-31 halftime tie. But with Indians’ inside players Christopher Newsome, Rayme Mackinson and Kody Strong all picking up their fourth fouls in the third quarter, Central Catholic took off.
A Norton 3-pointer from the corner with one second left gave the Saints a 55-44 lead entering the fourth quarter.
“We competed exceptionally hard the first half and so did Pontiac,” Central Catholic coach Jeff Wulbrun said. “At halftime we talked about being the aggressor and being tougher physically.”
Justin Safford’s fast-break dunk and rebound baskets from Josh Brent and Paul Kabbes were highlights as the Saints reeled off the first 14 points of the fourth quarter for a 25-point bulge.
“We lost Norton several times. He killed us from the corner, right where we knew he would be. It was poor communication and poor recognition on our part,” Pontiac coach Jake Krause said. “With all three big guys on the bench with four fouls, we didn’t have all our parts. Not having an inside presence really hurts.”
Central Catholic was outrebounded, 16-10, in the first half but turned that around in the second half with a 27-14 margin. Brent grabbed eight rebounds, while Safford and Kabbes had seven each.
“Our front court did a tremendous job the second half getting rebounds and getting our break going,” said Wulbrun. “Matt helps us in so many areas. He consistently found Tom spotting up against their zone. Defense, rebounding and efficiency at the offensive end were the keys the second half.”
Pelton finished with 15 points and 11 assists to run his career assist total to 314. Previous Central Catholic record holder Dave Bradley had 312 assists from 1969 to ’72.
“It’s amazing to know I have that. I didn’t know I was close to that honor,” Pelton said. “The team made it easy for me to be a playmaker. They were doing their job. We wanted to put them on their heels the second half, and we were able to do that.”
Safford added 12 points and Brent 11 for Central Catholic, which shot 54 percent from the field (28 of 52) but hit just half of its 26 free throws.
Matt Weber paced Pontiac with 16 points 14 in the first half and Newsome chipped in 11 points and 10 rebounds.
The Indians were 18 of 51 from the field (35 percent) with an icy second-half effort of 5 of 26 (19 percent).