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PEORIA -- You never want to leave the court 2 points shy, especially not in a state championship game.
One thing's for sure, though. Benet's players left Carver Arena with their heads held high.
Tremendous underdogs against the No. 12 team in the country, Benet's dream of a state title came to an end with Saturday's 46-44 loss to Whitney Young in the Class 4A final.
The Redwings (25-8), playing in their first title game in boys basketball, couldn't overcome a 19-point effort from St. Louis University-bound Miles Reynolds and a stifling defensive effort from the Dolphins (28-5).
Benet sliced an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to 2 points in the final half minute, but Whitney Young came up big at the line to seal its third state championship and first since 2009 -- the year before the start of Simeon's run of four straight titles.
"We knew we were coming from behind, we knew we could only do it one possession at a time," said Benet senior center Sean O'Mara, who tallied 10 points and leaves the Redwings as the program's all-time leading scorer. "Everybody kept attacking the glass. Just keep going, keep attacking. You can't win the game on your heels. You've got to make them get on their heels. That's what we did, they just hit some free throws at the end."
Benet trailed 42-31 after a one-handed dunk by Duke-bound Jahlil Okafor, rated as the nation's top senior player, with 3:07 left in the game. The Redwings stormed back behind 3-pointers by Liam Nelligan and two by Collin Pellettieri, and a putback by Xavier-bound O'Mara that narrowed the gap to 44-42 with 21.2 seconds left.
Two free throws by Paul White extended Young's lead to 46-42 with 19.5 seconds left. Nelligan scored in the waning seconds, but with the Redwings holding no timeouts, the clock expired.
Benet's previous best state finish was third place in 1979.
"It worked out to where we wanted to be, we just weren't able to make the plays," said Benet coach Gene Heidkamp. "I couldn't be any prouder of our kids. Anybody who says this team was a fluke, it was proven tonight that we deserved to be here and that we deserved to be where we're at. No question about it in my mind."
Six-foot-nine O'Mara more than held his own in his highly anticipated post showdown against 6-11 Okafor, who finished with 8 points -- 16 below his average. Reynolds, however, wound up hurting the Redwings by scoring 10 of his 19 in the first half while helping his team to a 25-15 halftime advantage.
"It's important to get off to great starts," Reynolds said. "Since the supersectional we got it going. Every game we got a decent lead at halftime so in the second half we had some leeway."
Benet's first rally came midway through the third quarter when O'Mara spun around Okafor for a two-handed dunk and followed with a jumper. Pellettieri's bucket in the final minute of the third quarter made it 32-27 game heading to the fourth.
Missed layups and 3-pointers again buried Benet, but the Redwings quickly showed they weren't through quite yet.
"We knew from the beginning it was possible," Pellettieri said. "We always knew we had a chance to win. Everybody had their energy flowing. It just wasn't enough."
Like they've done so many times before, the Dolphins responded by closing strong. They end the season with no losses to Illinois teams.
"They earned the right to play in the state championship game," Okafor said. "They wanted to be state champions just as bad as we did, but we were able to pull through. It was a fun game, hard battle and I'm happy to come out on top."
Colin Bonnett led Benet with 12 points and Pellettieri added 11. O'Mara finished with 8 rebounds as the Redwings held the Dolphins to their lowest point total of the season.
"It's an experience our kids will never forget," Heidkamp said. "The only disappointing thing is we came up a little bit short. But I could never be disappointed with my kids or their effort. I couldn't be prouder. I couldn't be prouder if we would have won the game."
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