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Article updated: 3/22/2014 12:20 AM
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Benet to play for Class 4A state title
 

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Benet to play for Class 4A state title
  • Benet Academy’s Josh Yesufu laughs at his teammates on the bench as he comes to the foul line late in the win against Edwardsville in the Class 4A state semifinal at Carver Arena in Peoria Friday.

    Purchase Photo | Benet Academy’s Josh Yesufu laughs at his teammates on the bench as he comes to the foul line late in the win against Edwardsville in the Class 4A state semifinal at Carver Arena in Peoria Friday. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 

PEORIA -- All you can ask for is a chance.

And that's exactly what Benet's boys basketball team now has in its future: a chance.

With the Redwings' 38-33 victory over Edwardsville on Friday, Benet will play this season's Goliath for the Class 4A state championship.

The assignment for Saturday night? A Whitney Young team ranked 12th in the nation and boasting the top player in the country in 6-foot-11 Duke-bound Jahlil Okafor.

The Redwings (25-7), who lost to the Dolphins (27-5) 61-46 last season, enter as a huge underdog. Then again, not many folks outside the Benet community expected this group to beat an Edwardsville team with only two losses coming into the weekend.

Now it's three.

Regardless of Saturday's outcome, Benet will surpass its previous best finish of third in the state in 1979.

"Style points may not have been there," said Benet coach Gene Heidkamp. "But for people who love basketball, who love hard play, love defense, I thought it was a real good game."

Benet's defense shined again, holding the Tigers (30-3) 8 points below their season low for points in a game.

Josh Yesufu, unguarded most of the night so the Tigers could double-team 6-9 Xavier-bound center Sean O'Mara in the post, put the Redwings ahead to stay at 21-19 with a bucket just two minutes into the second quarter.

Yesufu finished with 10 points, including 4 clutch free throws in the final 25 seconds to seal the win. He split a pair with 7.1 seconds left, putting Benet ahead 37-33.

Edwardsville had no timeouts remaining, meaning the game was all but over.

"Taking what the defense gives you," Yesufu said. "I just do what I have to do to win. Even if that means getting the offensive rebound, going for the loose ball, make free throws. Anything that we need to win."

Benet needed every bit of Yesufu's effort on an overall down performance on the offensive end. O'Mara finished with 6 points, while the team shot a combined 2 of 11 from 3-point range.

Normally that combination would spell doom for the Redwings, but not on this night. Spectacular defense, a slow game pace and a 32-21 rebounding advantage helped keep the game close until early in the fourth quarter.

"I think it just came down to they made a few more shots than we did," said Edwardsville coach Mike Waldo. "Although we had a great chance to win at the end also."

Colin Bonnett, who scored 8 of his 10 points in the third quarter while outscoring Edwardsville's entire team by a point, scored in the final minute of the third quarter to give the Redwings a 27-23 lead. A 5-0 run to start the fourth gave them a 32-23 advantage.

"I got a few open looks, hit an outside shot, started taking it to the basket," Bonnett said. "They were really focusing on Sean and collapsing in. Struggled from the free-throw line, but it still ended up working for us."

About that free-throw line...it wasn't friendly to Benet, especially not as the Redwings missed six straight attempts starting early in the fourth quarter. O'Mara offset some of the damage with a terrific putback of a missed 1-and-1.

Still, the misses allowed Edwardsville to twice creep within 3 points on baskets by Shawn Roundtree, who led the Tigers with 13 points. Yesufu broke the streak by knocking down a pair with 23.1 seconds left, extending the lead to 36-31 and pushing the Redwings a step closer to a showdown with Young.

"I have the utmost confidence in these guys, and it's going to take a complete effort," Heidkamp said. "We know what we up against. We'd never go into a game without believing we had a chance to win, but they're an unbelievable team."

All eyes shift to the post matchup between Okafor and O'Mara, who looks forward to another shot at Young's superstar.

"I would never back down from another great player, and he is a tremendous player," O'Mara said. "I'm just excited to have the opportunity to match up against him."

Follow Kevin on Twitter @kevin_schmit

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