HERRIN — In more ways than one, this was a trap game for the Benton boys.
With just one day of prep time after a big win Wednesday night at Murphysboro that solidified their SIRR Ohio lead, the Rangers then had to deal with Herrin’s 1-3-1 halfcourt trap that helped erase an 11-point second quarter deficit.
But on the brink of an overtime loss that would have injected more suspense into the conference race, Benton turned to one of its four senior starters to deny the Tigers their best win of the season.
Hamilton Page scored the last five points, including the tie-breaking free throws with 7.4 seconds left Friday night, as the Rangers eked out a 43-41 decision in Memorial Gym.
“He’s one of those guys who’s been through the wars before,” Benton coach Ron Winemiller said of Page. “Quarterback in football, shortstop in baseball … he’s been through a few pressure situations.”
Trailing 41-38 after Brandon Anthony sank a free throw with 1:04 left in OT, the Rangers (19-3, 6-0) spent about 35 seconds trying to find a shot against the 1-3-1. Finally, off a broken play, Cade Thomas found Page for a 3 from the left corner with 24.2 seconds remaining to even the score.
After a timeout, Herrin (7-13, 1-3) slalomed its way through pressure and created a potential go-ahead layup, but failed to convert. Gehrig Wynn rebounded and quickly heaved an outlet pass to Page, who drove to the goal and drew a two-shot foul as he missed.
Page drilled the first free throw and – after Winemiller used his last timeout to set the defense – his second. The Tigers opted against using one of their two remaining timeouts.
Junior guard Drew Ringel wriggled between two defenders and leaned into a game-winning 3-pointer just before the buzzer sounded. The shot was on line but banged off the back rim, enabling Benton to escape.
“I thought over the last three quarters, we played harder and smarter than we have all year,” Herrin coach Sayler Shurtz said.
Before then, the Rangers established a 17-6 lead, moving the ball beautifully on offense and playing textbook man-to-man defense. But the Tigers sliced the margin to 20-19 at the half, forcing key turnovers out of the 1-3-1, and made up an eight-point deficit midway through the third quarter.
A layup by Hayden Holloway with 1:27 left in regulation evened the score at 36. Benton missed a 3 and a putback on its final possession of the fourth quarter, setting the stage for Page’s heroics.
“They’re a much-improved team from when we saw them earlier this year,” Winemiller said of Herrin.
Wynn scored a game-high 16 points for the Rangers. Page and Parker Williams each tallied 11.
Ringel paced the Tigers with 12 points. Anthony and Holloway chipped in 10 apiece.