Benet ready for Stevenson
Benet's boys basketball team knew Stevenson's run was coming. It was just a matter of how the Redwings handled it.
After buckling a bit they handled it like a group that's actually grown fond of pressure.
Battle-tested Benet advanced to the championship game of Wheaton Warrenville South's Martin Luther King Day tournament with Monday afternoon's 66-56 win over the defending state champion Patriots.
The victory sent Benet to Monday night's title game against East Suburban Catholic Conference rival Notre Dame -- a team the Redwings beat by 17 points in league play on Thursday. Stevenson played Hinsdale South for third place in the 16-team event.
"The experiences at Pontiac and the other tough games we've played really prepared us for the pressure that we faced in that third quarter especially," said Redwings junior Jack Nolan. "And how to battle back from runs from these other good teams. I do think it helps."
Benet stormed to a 20-10 lead by the end of the first quarter behind three 3-pointers by Nolan, who finished with a team-high 18 points. The Redwings steadily built the margin during the second quarter and took their biggest lead of 16 points to the half.
Stevenson and standout junior Justin Smith, who sat the final five minutes of the first half with two fouls, finally came alive in the third quarter. Smith scored 9 of his game-high 21 points in the third quarter as the Patriots took chunks out of the deficit while leaning on their full-court pressure defense.
A 3-pointer by Rodney Herenton Jr. pulled Stevenson within 49-43 with 5:01 left in the game. Benet, however, answered with 8 straight points to reclaim control. Jason Malonga scored 6 of his 8 points in the mini run.
"We started to play with a little more energy and definitely a little more sound on some things," said Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose. "Kind of recognized some of their strengths and some of their weaknesses. And some of our strengths and weaknesses."
Balanced Benet received 13 points from Dan Sobolewski, 11 points from James Dockery and 10 points off the bench from Justin Enochs. Herenton scored 17 points for Stevenson.
"Although we play a lot of juniors, we have a lot of guys who have played a lot of basketball," Sobolewski said. "And we have some pretty good senior leaders."