HERRIN — The Benton Rangers rallied from 12 points down with 4:42 remaining to pull within one, but the Herrin Tigers' defense forced two missed shots in the final 15 seconds to hold onto a 42-40 win in the River-to-River Ohio Division conference opener on Friday night.
“Last year we might not have pulled these close games out, but the demeanor in the huddle was great at the end of the game,” said Herrin coach Sayler Shurtz.
Benton came into the game unbeaten, while Herrin had split its six non-conference games.
‘I thought our kids played their tails off,” said Benton coach Ron Winemiller. “I thought they played hard the first half, but we just couldn’t score. I thought we did a great job on Drew Ringel and Hayden Holloway, but we let Brandon Anthony score on too many runouts.”
Anthony and Luke LeQuatte led the Tigers with 13 and 12 points, respectively. Carson Lewis led the Rangers with 22 points.
“The game plan was to stop No. 11 (Lewis) and offensively drive and kick,” Anthony said. “We been working on defense all week to stop them and coach kept saying that was how we were going to win.”
Herrin (4-3, 1-0 Ohio) got off to another good start to open the fourth quarter, with an 8-2 run that included back-to-back 3-pointers by Anthony and Garrett Venegoni to take a 40-28 lead with 4:42 remaining.
On its next possession, Benton (5-1, 0-1 Ohio) got its rally started when Mason Wills scored on a layup. Winemiller called a timeout and brought Lewis off the bench after the junior had sat for almost nine minutes. The move paid off, as the guard scored on a layup and sank back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the lead two with 2:09 remaining.
After Herrin was called for an offensive foul, Lewis attempted his third straight from beyond the arc, but this time it rattled off the front of the rim with a minute remaining.
Benton then fouled Venegoni, and the senior forward made his first free throw, but missed his second to leave the Tigers with a 40-38 lead. Lewis cut the lead to one on a layup with 35 seconds remaining. Winemiller then called a timeout with 33.4 left on the clock.
Unable to pull off a steal, the Rangers fouled Anthony with 23.5 left, but before the guard could attempt his first free throw, Winemiller called another timeout. It didn’t faze the junior as he made his first, but missed his second to extend the lead back to two.
On the Rangers' next possession, Gordon got inside for a layup, but he missed. LeQuatte got the rebound, but he stepped on the line, giving the ball back to the Rangers with four seconds left.
After both teams called timeouts, Gordon took the ball out-of-bounds, and after a few seconds, passed to Brad Hammond in the left corner. The junior’s 3-point attempt bounced off the rim as time ran out.
“We knew they wanted to go to Lewis, but their second option would be Hammond,” Shurtz said. “He got a clean look, but we got our hands up and —what I was proud about — we secured the rebound.”
Herrin held the lead for all but 1:22 of the game, when the Rangers held a 7-5 lead at the 3:33 mark of the first quarter. The Tigers led 15-10 after the first quarter and 25-17 at the half.
“In the first quarter, Lewis got hot, so we went to our alternate game plan for him by running a zone,” Shurtz said. “We then were able to slow him down by giving them a different look. Our guys are long and lengthy and quick to the ball, so we were able to disrupt some of their shots. I thought how they shot tonight was how we got our hands up and made it difficult for them. We’ve made rebounding a priority, and not giving them a second chance was key.”
In the first half, the Tigers defense frustrated the Rangers holding them to just 6-of-19 from the field, including 1-of-7 from beyond the arc. Benton had better luck at the line making 4-of-6. Offensively, the Tigers were 10-of-24 from the field, including 1-for-6 from long distance and 3-for 3 from the line.
“Their zone gave us problems, but it was their length that really hurt us in the first half,” Winemiller said. “But as the game went on, we got used to it, and finally hit some shots late in the second half.”
In the second half, Benton shot 10-of-18 from the field, including 7-of-9 in the fourth quarter, while Herrin managed just 4-of-12 from the field.
Herrin expanded its lead to 11 points to open the third quarter, making 3-of-4 from the line. Fifty-four seconds later, Lewis picked up his fourth foul and was pulled from the game, but with their leading scorer on the bench, the Rangers still rallied to cut the lead to six heading into the fourth quarter on a 3-pointer by Grant Gordon with 25 seconds left.