Jan. 14—The Benton boys failed to capitalize on a number of late opportunities, ultimately falling 58-54 in overtime to Winnetonka on Thursday at Springer Gymnasium. The semifinal loss eliminated the Cardinals from Cardinal Classic championship contention.
Benton (9-4) coach Jared Boone discussed the tenor of the locker room following the disappointing loss.
"They're heartbroken, they played hard. We just made too many mistakes at the wrong time and their athleticism kind of gave us problems," Boone said. "I think they caught us off guard and did a good job of not ever letting us get into a rhythm."
An unfocused start got Benton off on the wrong foot, as Winnetonka (3-8) jumped out to an 8-0 lead before Boone called a timeout early in the first quarter. Following the break, Benton went on a 14-4 run to tie the game at 14 entering the second quarter.
"We knew we had to come back and execute if we wanted to be in the game, so we just executed our plays," senior Allan Coy said. "But we couldn't stop them on defense."
The Cardinals struggled to stop bruising Griffins forward Jason Essex, who scored consistently from multiple spots on the floor to the tune of 32 points in total.
"I felt like (Essex) for them, he was on. And we just didn't have anybody doing that," Benton guard Carson Newlon said. "That's gonna happen in basketball and you still have to find a way to win, but he played great."
Despite struggling to contain Winnetonka's offense, the Cardinals took a lead late in the second quarter and maintained it throughout most of the second half. They led by six points entering the final quarter, though the Griffins closed the gap at 50-50 with a minute and a half remaining in regulation.
Benton freshman Myles Bachali forced a turnover with 15 seconds on the clock after trading stalled possessions, but a fumbled pass from Newlon to senior Denver Domann on the feed inside put an end to a scoring opportunity. An immediate foul from Domann gave Winnetonka a chance to win on a free throw.
The Griffins missed the shot, and sent the game into an extra period.
Benton struggled to score in overtime, though a steal and score from Bachali cut the Winnetonka lead to 57-54 with 29 seconds to go.
The two teams traded missed free throws, and with just over ten seconds on the clock the Cardinals were able to squeeze off a several three-point attempts after a series of offensive rebounds. They all fell short.
Benton finished with just one made three-pointer in the game. Boone commented on their shooting woes.
"We got good looks at it, just a deal where we didn't have a good shooting night tonight," he said. "Those nights happen, and you just have to bounce back."
In spite of the disappointment at not getting a shot at the Cardinal Classic championship, Newlon says these kinds of losses can pay dividends down the line.
"As the season goes, we'll need games like this," Newlon said. "We'll need some close games so that later on in the year it won't come back and get us."
Benton will compete against Metro Academy for third place Friday night.
Levi Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.