It was obvious after only a few seconds that Joliet Catholic Academy had a clear game plan in mind when the Hilltoppers welcomed Benet for an East Suburban Catholic Conference clash on Friday night: take as much time off the clock as possible on each possession.
The slowdown tactics frustrated the Redwings early and even forced coach Gene Heidkamp to call a timeout less than three minutes into the game, at which time he decided to implement a rare fullcourt press. The effect was immediate as Benet sped up the Hilltoppers from that point on in what became a 47-18 victory.
"We were a little sluggish at the start and I credit Joliet Catholic for that," Heidkamp said. "I knew coach (Joe) Gura would want to slow the game down, and though we're not much of a pressing team, we worked on it this week because we knew the opportunity may present itself to use it."
With the Redwings extending their defense, they were able to force the Hilltoppers into committing turnovers, many of which led to easy baskets.
"Their press got to us in a couple stages and that was when they increased their lead," Gura said. "We were controlling the clock, but then we'd have two or three turnovers and their lead goes from 6 or 8 to 14."
Ryan Peter scored all 8 points as the Hilltoppers (4-16, 0-3) led 8-5 late in the first quarter, but a 3-pointer by Colin Bonnett and Sean O'Mara's dunk gave the Redwings (17-3, 3-0) a 10-8 lead after one period. The Redwings then held the Hilltoppers to 2 points in the second quarter while five players -- Eddie Eshoo, O'Mara, Bonnett, Jack Euritt and Rob Haemmerle -- combined to compile 9 points for a 19-10 halftime lead.
With the Hilltoppers sitting deep in a 2-3 zone, 15 of Benet's 23 first-half field-goal attempts came from 3-point range. That trend did not change in the third quarter as Benet hoisted 9 more 3s with Eshoo canning a pair and adding a layup as the advantage grew to 30-14 after three quarters. For the game Benet converted 9 of 28 attempts from beyond the arc.
"Their defense packed it in so much that it forced us to take shots that we usually don't," said Eshoo, who finished with a game-best 11 points, "but Coach gave the shooters the green light to take shots and draw their defense out."
Defensively, the Redwings were so solid that they allowed the Hilltoppers to score only 4 field goals on the night, with Heidkamp placing the blame for half of them on himself when twice he called for a trap that left players open. Benet also did not allow the Hilltoppers to grab a single offensive rebound during the game.