Benet stuns Notre Dame
With his team on the brink of upsetting one of the best boys basketball teams in the state, Benet guard Sam Hennessy had a flashback Friday night.
"We had a similar game against York a couple weeks ago where we were winning down the stretch and York got the ball and hit a buzzer-beater," Hennessy said. "That game stung us.
"We all remembered that one, so coming down the stretch we knew we had to close it out."
The Redwings did just that against visiting Notre Dame, the top-ranked Class 3A team in the state. Hennessy played tight defense on star guard Anthony Sayles, whose last-second 3-point attempt came up several feet short, cementing Benet's stunning 45-43 East Suburban Catholic Conference win.
"Sayles dribbled it down, everybody knew we needed to be ready on the help line," Hennessy said. "We had to get over on the screens and deny the passes.
"Sayles was who I had. He's great. He had a bunch of 3s earlier, so him with the ball at the end, we knew he was capable of making a shot, so we just had to play hard."
The Redwings (20-7, 6-2) played hard throughout despite facing a taller and more talented opponent who came in leading the ESCC. Hennessy scored only 3 points, but they came on a 3-pointer with 4:18 left in the fourth quarter that gave Benet its largest lead, 40-33.
"They're a great team," said Benet guard Tyler Van Eekeren, who scored a game-high 16 points. "Obviously, they have some really good athletes and great players, but we played really well down the stretch, especially defensively.
"Offensively, we did a great job working the ball. Sam made a huge shot down the stretch and played great defense. Defense drove the whole thing."
Sayles and 6-foot-7 forward Troy D'Amico scored 12 points each for Notre Dame (25-4, 7-1), but Sayles had only 2 points in the second half, during which he took only three shots.
D'Amico tallied 9 points after halftime, including a basket that pulled the Dons within 45-43 with 1:42 left. But he missed the ensuing free throw.
Even so, the Dons had three more chances to tie or take the lead. The first ended when Benet point guard Matt Reid drew a charging foul on Sayles and the second possession resulted in D'Amico missing a 3 from the top of the key.
Colin Crothers got the rebound but missed a 1-and-1 with 15.3 seconds remaining, setting up the Hennessy's big stop on Sayles.
"I thought our defense was really solid all night," Benet coach Gene Heidkamp said. "That gave us a chance.
"Notre Dame is an excellent team and you know they're going to keep coming back at you and it would go down to the final possession, which it did. We could have folded a few times, but we were able to come back with stops."
The victory gave the Redwings their 11th consecutive 20-win season. They did it even though they have no Division I players on the roster.
"Notre Dame has got a ton of offensive power," Hennessy said. "Any one of them can go off for 20 or 30 a night and we don't really have that, so we know we've all got to play as a team and help each other out.
"We all know our role. Someone can't go for 20 just because they want to score 20.
"You've got to play what comes to you and I think we do a pretty good job with that. One of us can have 10 one game and zero the next and we're all fine with it."
That was the case against the Dons. Jacob Snell came off the bench to score 10 points, while Reid added nine points and Crothers had 7. Jack Prock didn't score but led all players with 7 rebounds and 5 assists.
Then there was the defensive effort, which held Notre Dame to its second-lowest point total of the season.
"It was our best game of the year," Heidkamp said. "We played with a lot of toughness."