BENTON — The Murphysboro Red Devils spotted the Benton Rangers nine points to start the game. They gave up a late seven-point flurry to Carson Lewis, but in spite of everything, the Red Devils held on to claim a 40-38 victory over Benton in SIRR Ohio play.

“We held on tonight, hopefully we can grow from that because that has kind of been our problem,” said Murphysboro coach Daryl Murphy. “That moves us to 11-6, and I know we’ve lost three convincing leads with two minutes to go. I’m glad we persevered tonight.

“This group of kids has been punched in the gut several times this year, but they always bounce back. They come to practice with the right attitudes. We just have to get mentally tougher and stronger with the basketball in crucial situations.”

Nursing a six-point lead with just over four minutes to play, the Red Devils took about a minute off the clock. They were moving the ball smartly around the perimeter when Dezmond Clark got himself wide open with a back cut. Freshman guard Calvon Clemons whipped a laser pass to Clark, whose layup gave the Red Devils a seemingly safe eight-point lead with 3:09 to play.

After a Grant Gordon free throw, Lewis scored seven straight points to tie the game. Lewis' last bucket came after the Rangers kept the possession alive twice with offensive rebounds. Murphysboro turned the ball back over to Benton and Gordon went back to the free throw line with 35.8 seconds left. He made the second of two shots, giving the Rangers their first lead since early in the third quarter.

“We gave ourselves an opportunity, but more importantly, the middle 24 minutes I thought we were really bad,” said Benton coach Ron Winemiller. “I shouldn’t say bad, I just didn’t think we were as locked in defensively as this group has been at times. It cost us.”

After Benton regained the lead, the Red Devils struggled to get the ball inbounds, forcing Murphysboro’s Murphy to call a timeout.

After the timeout, Corbin Guthman threw a length of the court pass to McZeke. McZeke went high to catch the ball, took the ball to the bucket and scored on a short bank shot with 33 seconds left, putting the Red Devils on top 39-38.

“That was great execution on the inbounds play,” Murphy said. “Well, that’s one of my favorites. We were having trouble getting it inbounds. A great pass by Corbin Guthman. What’s funny is during football season, McZeke was the quarterback and Guthman was the wide receiver. I might have flip-flopped that thing around.”

Benton opted to go for the last shot, getting the ball to Mason Wills in the lane. Wills faked his defender into the air and ducked under, but his bank shot was too strong. The rebound was batted out to Clark. He added another free throw to account for the final score.

“That’s Benton — Murphy right there for the past five years,” said Winemiller. “Every game has come down to the last possession. We got a great look with a second and a half … If it goes in, I sure feel a lot better.’ It didn’t, and they come out of here with a great win.”

“Thank God the game didn’t go another minute, that’s all I can say,” added Murphy.

Guthman and Clark led all scorers with 12 points apiece. Joey Craig had 11 for Benton, nine of which came in the first half.

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Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

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