St. Viator's boys basketball team sent a reminder to the rest of the East Suburban Catholic Conference.
The Lions are still defending champions.
They played like it Friday in Lisle, topping ESCC leader Benet 55-54 to pull within a game in the loss column of the Redwings in the standings.
After trailing most of the final three quarters, Benet (19-4, 4-1) narrowed the gap to 2 points three times in the final three minutes. Sean O'Mara's two free throws with 49.6 seconds left made it 53-51, and a Lions miss on the front end of a 1-and-1 gave the Redwings a chance to tie or win with 25 seconds remaining.
Two missed free throws by Benet, however, led to a rebound by St. Viator's Patrick Martin and a layup by Ore Arogundade to boost the advantage to 55-51. Jack Euritt's 3-pointer at the buzzer accounted for the final score as St. Viator (15-5, 5-2) handed Benet a rare home loss.
"We get our just due, but there's many teams being picked ahead of us in this thing," said St. Viator coach Mike Howland. "We feel a little forgotten about. It's still our conference title to give up, and if we go down, we're going to go down fighting."
St. Viator slammed Benet with a 14-4 second quarter -- 8 points coming from Arogundade, who poured in a game-high 24 points -- and held the Redwings to 0-of-7 shooting from the field. Five straight points to start the second half extended the Lions' lead to 31-18 as they held Benet without a basket for 10 minutes, 36 seconds.
The road back to contention came behind the 6-foot-9 O'Mara inside, who scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half. Trailing 41-36 heading to the fourth quarter, Benet's Pat McInerney knocked down a 3-pointer and had 2 steals leading to 3 points.
O'Mara tallied 9 points in the fourth quarter, but it still wasn't enough to overcome the poised Lions. Benet's 12-of-22 free-throw shooting included 6-of-11 fourth-quarter shooting.
"The second quarter we struggled on both ends of the floor, that was the difference in the game," said Benet coach Gene Heidkamp. "We dug ourselves a little bit of a hole. I knew our kids would come fighting back, which they did, but it was just too much to overcome in the long run."
St. Viator didn't make it easy, committing only 8 turnovers and shooting a collective 56 percent from the field. Mark Falotico added 10 points for the Lions, while McInerney scored 14 and Eddie Eshoo tallied 10 points.
With Carmel's upset win over Notre Dame, Benet still sits atop the ESCC with one loss. Five teams, including St. Viator, have two losses.
"This game was a statement game for us," Arogundade said. "They're a top-10 team in the state and we feed off hype like that. We wanted to come out with good intensity and upset this team tonight."
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