Those who thought Wednesday's Class 4A Bolingbrook sectional semifinal game couldn't be topped, they were wrong.
On Thursday at Bolingbrook, No. 2 seed Benet beat No. 3 Neuqua Valley 68-62 in double overtime.
Benet answered with 26 points and 12 rebounds by Benet center Sean O'Mara scored 26 points with 12 rebounds and Pat McInerney scored 18 points with 13 rebounds. Another Redwings senior, Robert Haemmerle, scored 15 points with 7 rebounds and made perhaps Benet's defensive play of the game.
Neuqua point guard Jabari Sandifer answered with 26 points, including a 3-pointer with 6.5 seconds left in regulation.
"I don't want to sound corny, I don't want it to sound overly philosophical, but this was what March is about. That was an unbelievable game. I'm just kind of beyond words, which is unusual for me," said Benet coach Gene Heidkamp, whose Redwings (27-5) advance to Friday's sectional final against No. 4 seed West Aurora, which on Wednesday beat No. 1 Oswego in the first doozy, 61-60.
"An absolute classic, one for the ages," Neuqua coach Todd Sutton said.
In the first quarter five Benet players scored to go into the second quarter leading 19-5, silencing Neuqua's student section.
"We missed some shots. Big deal," Sutton said.
He was right. Wildcats center Pat Kenny and Neuqua (28-3) caught their footing to scramble within 25-18 at halftime.
In the third quarter Sandifer, Darien Miskel and Brad Mikulecky led a defensive assault that forced 6 turnovers from a Benet squad that made 2 the entire first half. Miskel challenged the 6-9 O'Mara and capitalized for Neuqua's first tie, 36-36, at 1:52 of the third quarter. A McInerney 3 from the top of the key gave the Redwings a 39-36 lead entering the fourth.
"It's the playoffs," O'Mara said, "no one's going to give up, no one's just going to roll over. Everybody's just going to be there right at the end."
From a 6-point first half, Sandifer sought redemption. After halftime he had 3 steals, 7 rebounds, three 3-point baskets and 3 three-point plays.
"Going into the second half I just started feeling it, I guess that was all it was," said the Western Illinois recruit. "And my teammates got me going, we fed off each other's energy and all the crowd's energy, and we got back into the game.
Neuqua took its first lead, 43-42, on a Kenny putback with 3:13 left in the fourth. Down the stretch Haemmerle scored 6 straight Benet points, including 4 clutch free throws for a 50-47 lead with 16.7 seconds left.
Sutton called one timeout to get the ball across the time line, another to set up a play. Sandifer drilled a long 3 with 6.5 seconds to deliver overtime.
"We knew that he was a great player, but he was five times better than I thought he was," said McInerney, who missed on a 3 at the end of regulation. "He hit shots that you're not supposed to hit. "
Sandifer also was playing with 4 fouls. With the score tied 54-54 in the first overtime he attacked the rim but charged into Haemmerle for his fifth.
"The game was not going to be lost because of me," Haemmerle said. "I wanted to just give forth my best effort. We've worked hard all year and we did not want the season to end today and I just did what I could to chip in, help a little bit here and there."
Mikulecky helped Neuqua get into the second overtime, forced when McInerney hit two free throws with 23.3 seconds left to tie at 58-58.
In the second overtime O'Mara scored 5 points with 2 blocked shots as Benet led 65-62 with 46.8 seconds left. Neuqua's Zach Incaudo scored on a putback with 35 seconds left, but Jack Euritt hit and McInerney hit three free throws while Neuqua went 0 of 3 on 3-point tries.
"I thought it was two teams playing as hard as they could play," Heidkamp said. "I can't say enough about both teams in this game. I think there's a lot of character on the floor tonight."