There are two ways teams try to defend Sean O'Mara and the Benet boys basketball team, according to coach Gene Heidkamp.
The first is to collapse around the 6-foot-9, Xavier-bound center to keep him from catching the ball in the first place, a tactic teams like York and Notre Dame tried recently only to be burned from the perimeter by Benet's accurate 3-point shooters.
The other way is to harass Benet's guards into turning the ball over so often that O'Mara's touches are thereby limited. Visiting Larkin tried the latter approach in Saturday's nonconference meeting in Lisle between teams ranked in the top 10 of the Daily Herald Top 20.
The Royals enjoyed some initial success with the scheme, but once Benet's guards began beating Larkin's pressure regularly and were able to pass the ball inside to their big man, he had a field day against mostly single coverage. O'Mara scored a career-high 39 points on 16-of-21 shooting, and he grabbed 14 rebounds to lead No. 7 Benet to a 76-69 victory over No. 4 Larkin.
"What happens is there's less help in the post," Heidkamp said of Larkin's choice to pressure Benet's guards. "So when (O'Mara) catches the ball he has more room to operate."
O'Mara's 39-point performance was 2 points shy of the school record of 41 set by multiple players, most recently by Dave Sobolewski of Northwestern, according to the Benet coaching staff.
"It's a whole team win," O'Mara said. "I give credit to the guards on every single one of those buckets. They are the ones who have to bring it up three quarters of the court and then get it to me. I just have to turn and score."
Benet (11-4) led 34-30 at halftime and extended that lead early in the third quarter as O'Mara scored on 3 straight possessions to open the second half. He scored 23 points after halftime.
"I did a bad job game planning for the big kid, but hindsight is 20/20," Larkin coach Deryn Carter said. "He's a good player and he had his way with us. We just didn't do a good enough job as a collective group. I made an adjustment late to front him, and once we finally fronted him their guards weren't able to get the ball into the post. It is what it is. We'll take the loss. They shot it well when they kicked it out and they got offensive rebounds."
The Redwings won the rebounding battle 32-19, led by14 from O'Mara, 8 from 6-4 senior Liam Nelligan and 7 from 6-3 junior Collin Bonnett.
The Redwings sank 7 of 14 tries from beyond the arc. Senior Collin Pellettieri made half of his 6 attempts from 3-point range while Nelligan and Bonnett each sank a pair. Pellettieri's third 3-pointer of the night gave the Redwings their largest lead of the second half, 71-58, with 3:35 to play.
"It was hard because we knew they had a big-time post player, so we had to dig and then we had to recover," said Larkin guard Kendale McCullum, who finished with 21 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals. "It was hard guarding him and the shooters."
Larkin (14-3) kept fighting until the end. The Royals used a 9-1 run to draw within 72-67 on freshman Christian Negron's layup with 44 seconds to play, but Bonnett sank 2 free throws to keep the Redwings safely ahead.
McCullum scored 9 points in the first quarter as the Royals jumped to a 17-8 advantage, but 3-pointers by Pellettieri and Bonnett narrowed Larkin's lead to 17-16 after a quarter. O'Mara scored 10 points in the second quarter to help Benet to its 34-30 halftime lead.
Senior guard Derrick Streety scored 19 points and Taylor Boley and Negron each had 9 points for Larkin.
Bonnett scored 14 points, Nelligan added 12 points and Pellettieri had 9 for Benet.