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Benton Evening News - Benton, IL
  • Benton Middle School boys advance to title game

  • The Junior Rangers downed the Tigers, 61-49, and will now advance to the Class L Finals Thursday night.
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  • Playing in their biggest game of the season, the Benton Middle School boys basketball team stormed out of the gates and took a quick 20-6 first-quarter lead against Centralia in the semifinals of the SIJHSAA Class L boys basketball tournament Tuesday night in Ina.
    Benton standouts Austin Wills and Derek Oxford then did the rest. Wills was on fire all night and hit seven big 3-pointers en route to a game-high 26 points, while Oxford scored 11 first-quarter points and finished with 19 as the Junior Rangers downed the Tigers, 61-49, and will now advance to the Class L Finals Thursday night.
    "It was as good of a start as we could've asked for," Benton coach John Cook said. "Today we just let loose, had fun and played ball. We got in a groove, we got in a rhythm, we got the crowd into it and that helped. That start set the tone for the entire game."
    The Rangers buried the Tigers early and never let up. Behind 11 from Oxford and Wills' first 3-pointer, Benton opened up a 20-6 first-quarter lead. After taking a 10-4 lead, Benton finished the quarter on a 10-2 run.
    The Junior Rangers' offense kept rolling in the second quarter as Wills' drilled four more 3-pointers in the period and had 12 of Benton's 16 second-quarter points.
    While Centralia had a tough time containing Benton on the defensive side of the ball, the Tigers got things going offensively in the second frame. Centralia outscored the Jr. Rangers 18-16 in the quarter and pulled within 36-24 at halftime.
    Wills was still on fire after halftime. The eighth-grader hit two more 3-pointers and finished with eight in the third period as the Rangers outpaced the Tigers 14-12. Benton finished with 10 3-pointers.
    "We've seen when Wills is hot how good he can be," Cook said. "We knew if he could come out and stroke it like that, it would take pressure off Oxford. It's tough to guard both of those guys at the same time."
    Oxford and Wills had some help, though. Tyson Houghland added eight, Blane Pankey chipped in six and Jourdan Garbo added two.
    Dawson Berry had 20 for Centralia, which falls into the third-fourth place game against Herrin at 6 p.m.
    Benton (22-4) will face Marion (24-0) in the Class L finals at 7:30 p.m. Thursday night. The Rangers will be playing for their first Class L title since 1972. It won't be easy, though. The Wildcats beat the Rangers twice in the regular season. MJHS won in Benton, 62-34, and again in Marion, 61-39 last month.
    "They're as good as I've seen this year," Cook said. "They've beaten us by 30, beaten us by 20, but we don't care. We don't care who you throw at us, we are going to come ready to play and see how it turns out."
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