When Richwoods senior point guard Jontell Lindsay drove the lane and made a layup with just five seconds left in the first half, it looked like the Knights would have a little boost of momentum heading into the locker room.
Peoria Notre Dame junior point guard Nick Rochford thought otherwise.
Rochford methodically brought the ball up the court as the seconds ticked off the clock. He launched a rainbow of a shot just beyond the half-court line as the buzzer sounded. The ball swished through the net and the Irish were the ones with the momentum, and the big lead.
Notre Dame led 35-21 at halftime and cruised to a 68-51 win at Richwoods Friday night for their first conference win. It was the first conference loss for the Knights.
“Nick is great in those situations,” said Notre Dame coach Eddie Mathews of Rochford, who also tipped in a shot at the buzzer at the end of the third quarter. “He wants the ball. He is very confident that he can make a shot.”
The Irish dominated the game from start to finish. They jumped out to a 9-0 lead thanks to two early three-point shots by Tyler Les, who finished with a game-high 20 points.
Mathews said the junior Les, or “Ty-Fecta,” as he likes to call him, brought a lot of intensity to the game and showed his potential to become a great player before his career is done.
“He stepped up,” Mathews said. “You’re going to hear a lot more about him.”
It was Notre Dame’s third straight win over Richwoods, dating back to last year’s conference and Regional games.
“The coaches don’t have to do much to motivate the players to play Richwoods,” Mathews said. “They know it’s a big game. We had a great week of preparation for this game, and we executed the game plan effectively. It was a total team effort.”
The Notre Dame defense, led by sophomore center Max Bielfeldt (13 rebounds, six blocks) did not allow Richwoods to get easy shots inside.
“Richwoods has some quick players who can get to the basket in a hurry,” Mathews said. “Max did a great job preventing them from driving all the way in. If he wasn’t blocking shots, he was making it tough for them to get a good shot off.”
Richwoods shot 43-percent from the floor, but went just 3-for-17 from three-point range and 4-for-13 from the free throw line.
Mason Alwan, a junior guard who transferred from Notre Dame this season, led Richwoods with 16 points.
Mathews said he had been waiting for a game like this one, in which the Irish would put it all together.
“I expected that we would get off to a slow start because we have a young mix of players who don’t have a lot of experience,” he said. “But, I knew we had a lot of talent. Against Richwoods, we showed what we’re capable of.”
Peoria Central transfer Jeff Todd had six points in the fourth quarter and 11 points for the game for the Irish.
“Roadrunner. Water bug. Those are just a couple terms that would apply to Jeff,” Mathews said. “He’s so quick. He has explosive breakaway speed.”
Notre Dame (8-6, 1-2), which beat Urbana, 77-64, Saturday, plays Woodruff (11-3, 1-1) at home at 7:30 Friday.
“That is another very significant game. All conference games are important.” Mathews said. “We can’t have three losses this early if we expect to compete for the conference title.”