DEKALB – Remember the dribble-drive Memphis team powered by Derrick Rose that almost won a national championship in 2008?
Newman got a poor man's dose of that Tuesday night in the form of Bloomington Central Catholic.
The Saints, powered by all-state guard Nick Norton, put on a display of fancy passing that bewildered the Comets, and the result was a 77-65 Saints victory at the Class 2A DeKalb Supersectional at the NIU Convocation Center.
"They were the best team we played all year, from an all-around standpoint," Newman senior A.J. Sharp said. "They had good up-front people, but at the same time, they kicked it out to role players, and they made their shots."
"They came out and played a great ballgame," Newman sophomore Noah McCarty added. "They executed their offense, and we didn't play as good of defense as we could have played. I give credit to them all the way."
Newman (29-3) allowed an average of 51 points per game entering the contest, but Bloomington Central Catholic (26-6) reached that total midway through the third quarter. Spearheading the Saints' attack was Norton, a one-time Creighton recruit who had 19 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals, while committing just one turnover.
Newman defensive ace Micah Trancoso tried his best to stick with Norton, who was impervious to pressure – not to mention far from the Saints' only option. Jake Reinhart finished with 24 points, including a 5-for-11 display from 3-point range.
Elliot Hoerdemann (11 points) and Austin Holman (10 points) also reached double figures, with Hoerdemann also collecting 10 rebounds.
"All season long, we've been trying to focus in on working the ball around, swinging it side-to-side, and when we do that, we get great shots," Norton said. "I have confidence in every single one of them to knock those down."
Bloomington Central Catholic, which knocked off previously undefeated Rockridge at the Stanford Olympia Sectional final Friday, impressed Newman coach Ray Sharp.
"They're a great team," coach Sharp said. "There's a reason they beat Rockridge, and there's a reason they beat us, and that's because they're a very, very good team. Their point guard [Norton] is tremendous, and whenever you helped to stop him, he'd find open shooters, and they knocked shots down."
The Saints built a 16-6 lead after the first quarter, as Newman was content to fire away from 3-point range early. The Comets were 0-for-8 from long distance in the first quarter, putting themselves in a hole they never dug out of.
"That first quarter killed us," A.J. Sharp said. "We took some tough shots, didn't get it inside as much as we wanted to, and I take full blame for that. Coming out, we've got to know what our strengths are, we've got to know where our advantages are, and we didn't take advantage of the first quarter."
Newman's deficit grew to 17 points (38-21) by halftime, and the Saints' largest lead was 20 points (57-37) after a basket from reserve center John Hester with 7:44 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Comets, however, didn't pack it in. Thanks in part to some wayward free-throw shooting by the Saints, Newman climbed back to within 58-48 after a 3-pointer from A.J. Sharp with with 5 minutes to play.
The Saints again had an answer. After Norton weaved his way through the Newman press, he found Reinhart in the corner, and he buried a 3 at the 4:46 mark to make it a 13-point margin.
"They went on a little run, and I knew we needed a bucket," Reinhart said. "I just had to be confident, take the open shot, and they went down tonight."
Sharp hit three free throws at the 2:06 mark to again get Newman to within 10 points at 69-59, but that was as close as the Comets got.
Sharp led the Comets with 21 points, six assists and three steals, while McCarty was solid inside with 18 points and 15 rebounds, despite being the focus of the Saints' collapsing defense all night.
Newman has now gone deep in the postseason 3 years in a row, with two sectional titles and a sectional final to its credit. It won 76 games in that span.
"The ride was amazing," A.J. Sharp said. "We had a great team, on and off the court. We hung out a lot off the court, and came ready to play every day. It's not the way we wanted to go out, but looking back in the future, I'll be thankful for the opportunities we got."
The cupboard is hardly bare for the Comets. McCarty will return for his junior season, and top reserves Nolan McGinn and Trevor Bolin will be ready for expanded roles.
"It's been a good ride with these seniors," McCarty said. "They accepted me as a sophomore coming up and starting for them, and I'm just so happy to be part of this team."
Bloomington Central Catholic, meanwhile, will be making its first state tournament appearance. The Saints will take on Providence St. Mel, a 50-46 winner against Hales Franciscan at the Joliet Supersectional, in a state tournament semifinal Friday in Peoria.
"It's crazy," Reinhart said. "Words can't really describe. Even through hard times, we pushed through it and kept this as our main goal, and we achieved it."
Tuesday's star: Jake Reinhart (BCC) 24 points, 4 assists
Key performers: A.J. Sharp (N) 21 points, 6 assists; Noah McCarty (N) 18 points, 15 rebounds; Nick Norton (BCC) 19 points