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By Kevin Schmit
IHSA Class 4A semifinals
Benet (24-7) vs. Edwardsville (30-2)
When: 8:15 p.m. Friday at Peoria's Carver Arena.
Road to the semifinals: As the top seed in the East Aurora sectional, Benet beat Lemont 81-36, Waubonsie Valley 57-33, Hinsdale Central 61-50 and Geneva 60-41. The Redwings advanced to the semifinals with Tuesday's 62-59 win over Glenbard North in the Hinsdale Central supersectional. Edwardsville, top-seeded at East Moline United, beat Granite City 51-26, Quincy 65-49, Belleville East 47-40 and Normal Community 56-53. On Tuesday the Tigers beat Marian Catholic 65-60 in the Illinois State University supersectional.
Playoff history: Benet is making its first state appearance since 1983. In three previous appearances the Redwings brought home one trophy when they finished third in 1979. Edwardsville will go home with its fourth state trophy. The Tigers, who never have won a championship, lost to Stevenson in last year's semifinals before beating Proviso East in the third-place game.
The coaches: Benet coach Gene Heidkamp is in his ninth overall year as a head coach and takes a 163-97 record into the weekend. A three-year coach at Nazareth, in six years at Benet Heidkamp's compiled a 139-40 record. In 31 years as a head coach, including five at Alton Marquette, Edwardsville coach Mike Waldo boasts an overall record of 636-237. In 26 years with the Tigers, his record is 555-186.
Name Ht. Yr. Pos. Name Ht. Yr.
Sean O'Mara 6-9 Sr. C/F Armon Fletcher 6-5 Sr.
Liam Nelligan 6-4 Sr. F Darius Crochrell 6-1 Sr.
Colin Bonnett 6-3 Jr. G Trevor Clay 6-2 Sr.
Josh Yesufu 5-10 Sr. G Darian Brown 6-1 Sr.
Collin Pellettieri 5-11 Sr. G Shawn Roundtree 6-0 Sr.
Outlook: The broken record continues...what will happen with Xavier-bound O'Mara? In Tuesday supersectional the issue wasn't so much what Glenbard North did defensively to handle one of the state's elite post players. The issue became how O'Mara defended a Panthers team with no true post player. For much of the game he wound up guarding point guard Justin Jackson. You'll likely see something similar in this matchup. Not that O'Mara will be guarding Roundtree, Edwardsville's point guard averaging 17 points and 8 assists, but his defensive assignment might look a little strange. Edwardsville's defensive plan isn't a slam dunk. It's a well-coached group that shifts from man and different zone looks. Regardless, Benet's success depends on O'Mara doing his typical job inside. That means finishing on an opening or kicking out when surrounded. Pellettieri was super clutch on Tuesday, knocking down his eighth 3-pointer of the night to win the game. Bonnett, Nelligan and Dan Roemer need to step up as well on the perimeter to pull this one out. While Roundtree is an outstanding point guard and Clay the main 3-point threat, Fletcher is Edwardsville's best player. The Southern Illinois recruit averages 17.5 points and 13.7 boards. Nelligan, who's drawn the toughest defensive assignment throughout the playoffs, likely draws that matchup.
Intangibles: Last time Benet made it this far the Redwings played at Assembly Hall during the tournament's glory days in Champaign. Thirty-one years of waiting doesn't necessarily increase the pressure, though. This side of Whitney Young, no team in the state has played a tougher schedule in tougher environments. Benet will be mentally prepared to go. At the opposite side of the spectrum, Edwardsville is quite familiar with Carver Arena after last season's third-place finish. No doubt the Tigers will be motivated by unfinished business. Both teams know that many folks are looking at the first semifinal as the actual state title game. There's simply no denying the draw of Jalen Brunson and Stevenson against Jahlil Okafor and Whitney Young. The urge to prove they belong is strong for both these teams.
Advancement: The winner advances to the state title game to face Friday's winner between Stevenson (31-1) and Whitney Young (26-5) at 8:15 p.m. Saturday. The third-place game is at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.