BY CHAD DARE
The official school day typically ends around 3 p.m.
On Friday night, school was in session at Normal West starting at 7:30 p.m. and lasting until 9 p.m.
During that stretch the Wildcats gave the Danville Vikings all kinds of lessons in basketball as Normal West won its sixth straight with a 63-39 victory.
“I don’t know how good Normal West is but they looked awfully good tonight,” Danville coach Ted Houpt said. “I don’t know how much we had to do with that. Their ability to knock down the 3, not turn the ball over, get layups and find the open man — it was beautiful to watch.
“It would have been if I hadn’t been on the other bench.”
Normal West, which improved to 10-6 overall and 5-3 in the Big 12 Conference, had 20 assists on 25 baskets and the Wildcats shot a remarkable 58 percent (25-of-43) including making 14-of-21 in the second half.
“We just have an unselfish team,” Normal West coach Brian Cupples said. “We didn’t run a whole lot of stuff. We just have kids that understand shot fake, pass fake, make the extra pass and when you make shots, you get an assist.
“We were in a good rhythm offensively.”
That was definitely the case at the start of the game and the start of the second half.
The Wildcats scored the game’s first 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting with senior guard Adam McGinnis knocking down two of his game-high four 3-pointers in the first 4 minutes, 35 seconds.
“We have to have good starts,” Cupples said. “We emphasize that we have to get the lead. We need to dictate the way the game is going to be played.
“We made some shots and I thought we had good ball movement.”
Normal West sliced through both Danville’s man-to-man defense and the Vikings 2-3 zone.
“We thought we could put some pressure on them, but it didn’t bother them very much,” Houpt said. “They went backdoor, they got layups. We went zone and couldn’t find the shooters.
“We didn’t do a great job defensively, but they were as impressive as any team we’ve seen.”
In spite of the slow start, Danville battled back in the second quarter, pulling within 29-24 at halftime thanks in part to junior guard Marcus Merriweather who had six points and five assists in the first half.
Houpt pointed out his Vikings, who fall to 2-13 overall and 1-7 in the Big 12 with their ninth straight loss, have had good starts recently only to see things turnaround in the second half. He was hoping things would go differently on Friday night.
“In the first half, when we weathered that ugly start,” Houpt said. “I thought we were in good shape down five. I thought we were on the other end. We turned it around and had the momentum.”
Normal West didn’t waste any time in the second half regaining its dominance.
The Wildcats went on a 8-0 run in the first 89 seconds of the third quarter with 6-foot-6 senior center Adam Newhouser converting a pair of three-point plays sandwiched around a layup by Spencer Seibring.
“The start of the third quarter was really big,” Cupples said. “It kind of took their will away.
“The made a run at us and we took their roll away in the third quarter.”
Danville didn’t make its first field goal of the second half until there was 5 minutes, 48 seconds left in the fourth quarter when Denzel Smith, who had a team-high 14 points off the bench, hit a short jumper.
The Vikings had missed eight straight shots and committed six turnovers in the second half before that shot. Their only points during that 21-2 run for Normal West was two free throws by Te’Von Hutcherson.
“It’s hard to keep coming back,” Houpt said. “It’s hard to overcome a lot of mental lapses. The energy is there, everyone is trying. But, there is not a concentration or a focus.
“We play hard on defense, but we give up so many layups.”
And every Danville miscue – offensively or defensively – was very costly as Normal West had just six turnovers and the Wildcats contested every shot by the Vikings.
“Just being smart and taking whatever we gave them,” said Houpt of the Wildcats. “They seemed to make the right decisions every time. It just wears you down, when you make a mistake and the other team doesn’t.
“Hopefully, we can learn from that. They are just good caretakers of the ball. That’s something we just desperately need to work on.”
And what was even more frustrating for Houpt was that the Vikings had a good week of practice.
“Everyone was confident we had this figured out,” Houpt said. “We were going to attack the seams of the zone, and we’re going to have shooters spotting up.
“But we had problems getting the ball to Denzel. Until we start knocking down shots consistently, teams are just going to pack it in, taking him away from us.”
After playing its last four games on the road, Danville is back at home on Tuesday with a contest against the Champaign Central Maroons. The sophomore game begins at 6 p.m. with the varsity game tentatively set for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff.
In the preliminary game on Friday, Normal West defeated Danville 53-42. Leading scorers for the Vikings were Anthony Thomas with 14 and Aubrey Duncan finished with 10.