PINCKNEYVILLE — The Benton Rangers started off fast, but had to overcome a scoreless second quarter to beat Wesclin, 41-28, to win its first title at the 11th annual Duster Thomas Hoops Classic on Saturday.
"The first quarter we got them playing a little faster than they wanted to, but the pace kind of got away from us in the second quarter where we couldn’t score and set up our press," said Benton coach Ron Winemiller. "In the third quarter we made some baskets and got playing again at a pretty good pace. I’m really proud of the kids for battling and not letting them get the lead despite not scoring for an entire quarter. We did a good job playing within ourselves and coming away with a win."
The championship game was between two teams that hadn’t won the title before. Benton was the runner-up last year when Pinckneyville handed the Rangers its first loss of the season, 59-53, while Wesclin’s best finish was fifth last year and 2014.
"It was a big thrill to win this tournament by beating four really good teams," Winemiller said.
Benton (12-2) and tournament MVP Parker Williams set the tone early. Williams score the first three baskets of the game as the Rangers jumped out to an 11-point lead with 2:48 left in the first quarter thanks in part to two 3-point goals by Hamilton Page. Williams led the game with 16 points and Page finished with 10.
"This is the first time I’ve been named MVP, so it’s pretty exciting," Williams said. "The team threw the ball into the post and they were playing me from behind one-on-one and all I had to do was make a move and finish. I was kind of surprised to be named MVP, but if they think I deserve it then I will take it."
Wesclin (11-2) cut the lead to eight, but a layup by Williams with 58 seconds remaining gave the Rangers an 18-8 lead heading into the second quarter.
The second quarter was another matter. Mick Stephens got it started by putting back a rebound at the 1:58 mark to cut the lead to eight. Neither team scored for the next four minutes until Stephens hit a jumper with 1:56 left. Stephens then canned a 3-pointer 52 seconds later from the top of key to cut the lead to three at the half.
Benton was hot as a firecracker in the first quarter shooting 72.7 percent from the field, but was as cold as the temperature outside missing all six of their shots from the field, including 0-for-2 from beyond the arc.
The Rangers finally broke their scoring drought after 10 minutes and three seconds when Cade Thomas scored on a layup while being fouled and then converted the free throw 1:05 after intermission.
"I think the key to game was the unbelievable job Cade Thomas did on Brandon Courtney, who has been scoring a lot of points, holding him to seven points," Winemiller said.
Benton extended its lead to seven points before the Warriors rallied again to cut the lead to three 36 seconds into the fourth quarter. But Gehrig Wynn canned back-to-back 3-pointers to regain the momentum for the Rangers and extend the lead to nine with 5:48 remaining in the game.
At that point, the Rangers went into a stall forcing the Warriors to foul sending Benton to the line three times with Williams making 3-of-4 and Wynn making two to seal the title. Wynn was also named to the All-Tournament Team.
"Parker has been good for four games in this tournament and really deserved to be MVP, but our guys did a good job of giving him the ball in positions where he could score," Winemiller said.
In the morning session, Benton returned the favor this year by handing defending champion Pinckneyville its first loss of the season, 51-41. The Panthers jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first 1:11 of the game, but Benton came roaring back with an 11-1 run to take an 11-8 lead into the second quarter and never looked back.
Benton scored 20 points off of 21 Pinckneyville turnovers.
Pinckneyville (13-1) led by Grant Jausel with 23 points came back to beat Du Quoin, 72-45, before a packed house in the third place game.
Also named the All-Tournament Team were, Nate Brede, Mick Stephens and Brandon Courtney from Wesclin, Jausel and Kyle Luke from Pinckneyville, Lamontay Daughtery from Du Quoin, Blake Wittman from Jerseyville and Christian Stadeli from Cissna Park.