BENTON — The defending champion Benton Rangers withstood a late Sesser-Valier surge to beat the Red Devils, 64-51, to remain undefeated at the 45th Annual Benton Invitational on Friday night.
"It went from 12 to 3 really, really fast, but our guys made enough plays down the stretch and made a bunch of free throws in the fourth quarter, and did what they had to do to win," said Benton coach Ron Winemiller. "When you got four or five seniors out there all the time, you should be able to keep your composure. They made enough plays to make it look more comfortable than it was."
Benton (16-2) improved to 3-0 and will play Mounds Meridian at 11:30 a.m. in the Saturday morning session, before taking on Pinckneyville in the final game at 8:30. Sesser-Valier plays Carlyle at 10 a.m. and winds up against Hamilton County at 7 p.m.
"The final games on Saturday should make for an exciting day of basketball at the BIT," Winemiller said.
The Rangers were led by Gehrig Wynn with 22 points, including a season-high five 3-pointers and 5-of-7 from the line. Hamilton Page and Parker Williams added 14 points each, including both players going 4-for-4 from the line. As a team the Rangers made 15-of-17 free throws.
"It was getting near the end of the game and they were kind of getting into some desperation, and started taking some shots that we were giving them early and didn’t take at that time," Wynn said. "We were then able to string some stops together and make some layups and free throws to extend the lead back."
Benton led 47-32 with 2:46 remaining in the third quarter when Sesser-Valier began to make its run, scoring the final five points on a layup by Peyton Rock and a 3-pointer by Lucas Gunter.
Page got the lead back to 12 to open the fourth quarter. Eli Gunter then canned a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to nine, but Wynn got those points back on a three-point play after being fouled on a layup.
Addison Page then sank a jumper from the lane to start a 9-0 run that cut Benton's lead to three with 3:42 remaining. During the run, Preston Launius hit a 3-pointer from the right side and then stole the ball and made a layup. Eli Gunter finished the run with a pair of free throws.
"We got it down there and the kids played really hard, but then we kept making the same mistakes over and over again," said Sesser-Valier coach Shane Garner. "Gehrig Wynn shot the ball tremendously tonight and made plays. That’s what good players do. We were there and had a chance, but kind of let it slip away."
Page snapped the run when he drew a foul and made both his free throw attempts. Lukas Gunter had a chance to cut the lead back to three 10 seconds later, but missed a layup. Mason Wills then scored his only basket of the game to up the lead to seven, Page followed with a layup and the Rangers led by nine with 2:02 remaining.
Needing to foul, the Red Devils sent the Rangers to the line twice in the final 40 seconds and Cade Thomas made his two attempts — as did Parker Williams — to extend the lead back to 13 with 23 seconds remaining.
The game got off to a fast start with Sesser-Valier taking a 3-0 lead on a 3-pointer by Launius. Benton then scored on a putback by Williams, but the Red Devils came right back, with Rock making a steal and converting it into a layup to give the Red Devils a 5-2 lead 1:21 in.
The teams traded points for the 1:12 until Wynn drew a foul on a shot and split his free throws. That started a 12-4 run to give the Rangers a 19-13 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Williams increased Benton’s lead to open the second quarter on a fast break layup, but the Red Devils scored on back-to-back baskets by Launius and Rock to cut the lead in half. Benton responded with a 6-0 run, all at the line, to take a 10-point lead into the half.
In the opening game, Carlyle, led by Tyler Siever with 18 points, beat Hamilton County, 54-42.