It's safe to say one opponent in the Ohio Division of the River to River Conference has been a thorn in Benton High School's side the last couple of years.
With a conference title on the line a year ago, Murphysboro upset the Rangers on their home court. Fortunately, the loss didn't keep Benton from grabbing another title.
On Friday, the Red Devils came into Rich Herrin Gym with a 1-3 conference record, yet stunned the home crowd with a 40-38 victory. It was the second conference loss for the Rangers, who are trying to keep pace with unbeaten Herrin.
Benton had several offensive opportunities in the closing seconds of the game to tie or go ahead. The Rangers took a lead of 38-37 with 35.8 seconds remaining. It was their first lead since 22-20 early in the second half. Grant Gordon missed a second free throw that would've tied the game.
Murphysboro's Jamarr McZeke answered with a jumper in the lane with 25 seconds to go, setting up Benton's final possession. Senior guard Mason Wills got a good look in the lane with about five seconds left, but the shot fell off the front of the rim. Murphy's Dezmond Clark made a free throw with 1.4 seconds left and missed the second following a time out, giving the Rangers no time for a last-second shot.
"Every game has come down to that last possession. We thought it would here. We got a great look. If it goes in, I'm happy, but it didn't and they come out of here with a big win," said Benton coach Ron Winemiller.
Down by eight points with three minutes to go in the contest, the Rangers eventually tied the game at 37-all. Carson Lewis culminated the 7-0 run when he hit a short jumper in the lane.
"We gave ourselves an opportunity, but more importantly, it was about the middle 24 minutes that we were really bad," Winemiller said. "I shouldn't say bad. I just didn't think we were locked in defensively as this group has been at times, and it cost us."
Benton jumped out to a 9-0 lead with Joey Craig scoring six of his team-high 11 points in the quarter. Winemiller said JaQuan Jackson's three-point shot at the end of the quarter was the play of the game. It helped Murphy trim its deficit to 13-8. Carson Lewis and Brad Hammond chipped in nine points each for the Rangers, who fell to 12-5 and 3-2 in the conference.
Clark and Corbin Guthman had 12 points each for Murphysboro, 10-6 (2-3).
The Rangers led by as many as eight points in the second quarter but the Red Devils closed out the half on a 6-0 run, resulting in a 20-18 score. The Red Devils held a 27-26 advantage heading into the final quarter.
"It was just a tough loss. We had two good days of preparation and to not follow that up with a win is really disappointing," Winemiller concluded.
Benton is hosting the six-team Benton Invitational this week. Three games were played Monday night and three are scheduled tonight, including a Franklin County battle between the Rangers and Sesser-Valier. That game tips off at 8:30 p.m.
Games are also scheduled Friday night and Saturday morning and evening.