BENTON – With emotions running at a fever pitch, Benton"s five seniors were rewarded with a home victory over non-conference foe Mt. Vernon, 52-33, Tuesday night at Rich Herrin Gym.
The five seniors recognized between the JV and varsity games were: Tony Tillman, Timmy Henson, Austin Wills, Derek Oxford and Scott Mosley. Cheerleaders, Ranger Gals and senior band members were also introduced.
Benton closes out the regular season Friday at Murphysboro with the River to River Conference title on the line. Both teams come into the game with 8-1 conference records. The Rangers will be attempting to avenge an earlier loss to the Red Devils. The regular season will end Tuesday at Salem.
It took awhile for the Rangers to get into the game after the pre-game activities, falling behind 8-0 in the opening four minutes. Despite Hamilton Page"s stick back late in the quarter, the Rangers still trailed 11-8 at the end of the quarter.
Benton, intensifying its defensive pressure at the outset of the second quarter, got back-to-back baskets from Page in transition, Timmy Henson hit a short baseline jumper and Oxford nailed a three-ball to put the Rangers on top 17-11. In the first four minutes of the quarter, Benton outscored the Rams 14-1, upping its lead to 22-12 before the Rams connected for their first field goal.
Mt. Vernon eventually sliced the deficit to 22-18 before Oxford closed the quarter with a pair of free throws and a driving layup ahead of the buzzer for a 26-18 halftime lead.
"I thought the second quarter was the whole momentum shift," said Benton coach Ron Winemiller. "They got ahead and I was worried about them taking the
air out of the ball. We did a really good job of turning up the pressure with our press."
Winemiller said the Rangers rebounded well against bigger, stronger kids from the 3A school. Defensively, the Rangers forced Mt. Vernon into five second-quarter turnovers.
"To be honest with you, I was surprised our press gave them that much trouble. I figured they saw us with the pressure they get in the South Seven (Conference) and it led to some easy baskets when we needed some easy baskets."
Parker Williams scored five of his eight points in the third quarter while Oxford and Wills drilled treys to give Benton a 37-23 lead with 4:11 left. The Rangers held their 14-point lead of 41-27 at the break.
Benton was sharp offensively in the final period, protecting its lead and looking for bunnies in the blocks. The Rangers led 48-29 at the 2:45 mark and the seniors were escorted to the bench with 69 seconds left in the game to a rousing ovation.
Oxford led Benton with 16 points. He says he will miss playing before huge crowds at Rich Herrin Gym.
"It"s special. This has been my home for the last four years. It"s exciting to go out with a win with these other four guys. I"m not sad yet; I"m sure that will set in later. I"m just excited," Oxford said.
Classmate Austin Wills said the Rangers will have an opportunity to play more games on their home floor if they can win a Regional title since Benton will host a Class 3A sectional.
"It was great to be on that floor with them that last time but we"re not planning on it being the final time with sectionals here. Senior Night is always going to be special for us no matter what we do. This is a special place," Wills said.
"What a tremendous group with over 80 wins, and even better kids than they are basketball players. I"m going to miss being around all five of them in practice," Winemiller said.
Mt. Vernon, 7-18, got a double-double from O"Shea Hardin, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Benton improves to 26-2.