WW South's 2nd-half rally beats Benet for MLK title
Braylen Meredith bobbed up and down in the middle of a mass of Wheaton Warrenville South students, a tournament plaque waving in the air.
This was a hard-earned win worth celebrating.
Meredith, a WW South junior, scored a game-high 18 points, nine coming in the decisive third quarter. The Tigers overcame a five-point halftime deficit to beat Benet 45-38 in the championship game of the Wheaton Warrenville South MLK Tournament.
"Coach told at the halftime speech that we had to come out tough, we had to come out and play good defense, play our tails off," Meredith said, "and go back to basics."
Matt Sommerdyke added nine points, seven coming in the second half, with three rebounds and three assists and Tyler Fawcett eight points for WW South (20-1). Sam Driscoll scored 10 points and Nikola Abusara eight for Benet (15-5).
The game, pitting two teams who could potentially meet in a sectional next month, indeed had a postseason-type feel. Two large student sections, like the teams, went back and forth throughout the game.
"Playing Benet, that's a sectional-type atmosphere, sectional-type toughness," WW South coach Mike Healy said. "Really happy for our kids. I thought the guys in the second half were so tough. God they were so tough."
WW South's offense seemed stuck in neutral throughout a six-point second quarter. The Tigers went without a field goal for over six minutes, and trailed 20-13 late in the first half after a thunderous dunk by Benet's Kyle Thomas.
But the Tigers found another gear out of the break.
Rourke Robinson, Meredith and Fawcett -- the latter, who sat much of the second quarter with two fouls -- each hit 3-pointers as WW South hit its first three shots of the third quarter to close within one. Two Meredith free throws with 2:05 left in the third quarter gave the Tigers a 31-29 lead they would not relinquish.
WW South's 19 third-quarter points surpassed its entire first-half total. Its intensity noticeably ratcheted it up after the break, and it spread to its attacking ball pressure.
"We did a really good job of penetrating and kick, penetrating and drop off. They have a shot blocker and I thought we made some good decisions," Mike Healy said. "I thought we really valued the ball and made some decisions, and then we battled on the glass."
The Tigers also drew 14 Benet fouls in the second half, were in the double bonus by the last minute of the third quarter and attempted 14 free throws in the second half, making nine.
"The third quarter was the difference in the game," Benet coach Gene Heidkamp said. "They made three threes early on and they were able to get into some things that we were able to prevent them from in the first half. They made some nice adjustments. The other thing is we got into foul trouble. We need to do a better job of defending without fouling."
Meredith, a lanky 6-foot-5 forward, showcased his inside/outside game with the 6-foot-10 Thomas lurking at the rim. Meredith made two 3-pointers but also got to the free-throw line eight times and grabbed six rebounds.
"I think I had to shoot a little more because he's going to be blocking my shot down low," Meredith said. "I had to shoot a few threes to make him come out on me so I could get to the basket. Coach tells us to move the ball around but he told us in the second half if we had to put the ball on the floor to just do it."
Benet still had a chance for the tie in the final minute down 41-38, after a Fawcett layup rolled out. But Brennan White, Benet's best 3-point shooter, missed a three for the tie. The Redwings scored just five points and missed all five of their 3-point attempts in the fourth quarter in dropping another game against elite competition.
Benet's five losses are to teams with a combined 82-8 record entering Monday -- WW South, Glenbard West, Curie, New Trier and Proviso East.
"We're moving in the right direction but we have to figure out a way to beat some of those teams," Heidkamp said. "There is no shame in those losses but the reality is we have to find a way to get over the hump."