BENTON — Reece Johnson and the Benton Rangers defended home court on senior night Friday to take down Murphysboro, 54-44, to prevent the Red Devils from clinching the SIRR Ohio division outright.
The Rangers had Rich Herrin Gymnasium rocking with their ninth home win of the season. Benton and Murphysboro now sit atop the division with matching 7-3 records. Massac County's win over West Frankfort gave it a share of the crown as well.
Benton fell behind early in the first half after Murphysboro carried a 12-6 lead heading into the second quarter. The Rangers struggled finding their shot to open up the game, but would find a rhythm behind their junior leader, Johnson.
Johnson led all scorers with 17 points and was a relentless finisher around the rim on his team’s senior night. Johnson scored six of his points in the first half, but got some help from fellow senior Brad Hammond with a pair of 3-pointers.
Hammond closed out the first half with his second 3-pointer of the game after retrieving Johnson’s inbounds pass at the top of the key and drilling the shot to cut the Rangers' halftime deficit to 23-22.
Benton would claw back to regain the lead in the second half after junior Jacob Seidel reeled in a missed Johnson free throw and laid the basketball in to close out a 6-0 run and give Benton a 28-23 lead with five minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The Rangers would carry that lead late into the quarter before a couple of mistakes in the final minute led to Murphysboro sophomore Calvon Clemons scoring a couple baskets in the final 37 seconds to cut the Red Devils deficit to 35-33.
Murphysboro would tie the ball game up with a layup from Jameirr Frazier. But after a few lead changes, Benton went back on top for good after a Wyatt McClintock layup, followed by a layup from Reid Baumgarte on the following possession to put the Rangers up 41-37.
Benton shot 6 of 7 from the free throw line down the stretch, with 4 of 5 coming from Johnson. Carson Lewis added a layup with less than a minute remaining to put the Rangers' lead at 10.
Lewis would end up finishing his night with nine points, while McClintock was a force off the bench with 10 points and three rebounds.
Murphysboro was led in scoring by senior Dezmond Clark with 15 points, but the Red Devils got outscored 32-21 in the second half.
The difference came down to turnovers. Benton turned over the ball three times in the opening quarter, but limited the mistakes to just three for the remainder of the game.
Murphysboro made smart decisions with the basketball early on in the game, but five turnovers in the second half came in crucial moments and cost the Red Devils a chance at clinching the division outright.
Murphysboro will return home next week to host a Class 2A regional. The Red Devils will await the winner of Monday’s game between Chester and Du Quoin before going to battle on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Benton will take on McLeansboro (Hamilton County) in the first round of the Carmi-White County regional on Tuesday at 6 p.m.