Steve McGrath was the right man for the job.
Colfax Ridgeview came in with the state's No. 1 ranking, Tyler McCormick the reputation. Ridgeview's star hit seven of his team's 12 3-pointers in a sectional final Friday.
It was nothing that Newark's ace defender couldn't handle.
"Steve is just outstanding, energy-plus. He's the best defender I've ever coached," Newark coach Rick Tollefson said of his 6-foot senior guard. "I don't know if McCormick had ever had a guy guard him like that."
For four quarters Tuesday McGrath chased McCormick, and frustrated him. The rare times McCormick found room, a second Newark defender stepped up to close the space.
Newark, ranked No. 5 in the state, held Ridgeview to a stunning two points in the third quarter and rode that to a 43-32 win in the Class 1A Illinois State Supersectional at Normal's Redbird Arena.
The Norsemen (28-4) advanced to the state semifinals for the first time since winning the 2011 title. They'll play Okawville at 12:45 p.m. Friday in Peoria.
"I followed that 2011 team a lot, and that was special," said Newark senior guard Will Clausel, who had a team-high 12 points and five assists. "We're trying to do the same thing. Who knows what can happen now?"
Newark was no stranger to Tuesday's setting. The Norsemen were playing in their sixth supersectional since 2009, but it's been a stubborn nut to crack. Other than 2011, Newark was winless in its four other tries.
For a half Tuesday, it looked like it could be more of the same. Ridgeview (30-2), which came in on a 16-game win streak, led 20-17.
"It was one of those deer in the headlights looks. I think everybody here could tell that we were tentative," Tollefson said. "I told the kids we had to either ratchet it up or we were going home."
The Norsemen got the message.
Cameron Myre, who had 11 points and seven rebounds, sank a baseline jumper 14 seconds into the third quarter. McGrath, who had 10 points, followed with an acrobatic baseline drive and reverse layup in transition to give Newark a 21-20 lead.
Myre hit another jumper to give Newark the lead for good, 24-22, and McGrath followed with a steal and a score.
Stunningly, Ridgeview scored just two points over the first 10 minutes-plus of the second half. By the time Myre buried a deep 3-pointer, it was 31-24.
Ridgeview shot just 31.7 percent (13-for-41) for the game, 3-for-17 on 3s.
"Our defense in the second half was the game-changer," Tollefson said.
McGrath sure was.
Newark started out in its zone, but switched to man-to-man midway through the first quarter and stuck McGrath on McCormick.
Ridgeview's 5-foot-9 guard scored just five points on 2-for-13 shooting from the field, 1-for-8 on 3-pointers. He went scoreless in the second half.
"I knew he was a good shooter - they ran him a lot going side to side," McGrath said. "I didn't help off him much. I tried to stay with him because I knew he had a good shot."
McGrath clearly wore on him.
In the fourth quarter McCormick was fouled on a 3-pointer, but missed all three shots. Next time down, McCormick air-balled a 3-point attempt.
"That's what Steve does," Clausel said. "Steve's the best defender we got and he showed why. I don't think (McCormick) got a shot off and when he did it was challenged."
For Clausel and the rest of Newark's players, Tuesday was redemption a year in the making.
Some thought the Norsemen were among the best in 1A last year, but they lost to LeRoy in the supersectional. Clausel's older brother Jack, a senior on that team, was in the first row at Redbird Tuesday.
"We thought we were going to make a run last year and it cut short," Clausel said. "Us seniors, we weren't ready for it to end."