Boys basketball: Gabe Sularski, Colin Stack team up to help Benet turn away Marist in ESCC thriller

Sularski pass sets up Stack’s deciding free throws in 62-61 Redwings’ win

Benet's Gabe Sularski (25) drives past Marist's Stephen Brown during a game on Dec. 15, 2023 at Benet Academy in Lisle.

LISLE – Gabe Sularski faced the toughest challenge of his young varsity career Dec. 15.

Benet’s highly-touted 6-foot-6 sophomore was the primary target of a physical Marist defense that held and bumped Sularski throughout the game. He didn’t make a shot in the first or fourth quarter and took only six shots for the game.

But Sularski made a beautiful basketball play out of a bad situation in the biggest moment.

When two Marist defenders met Sularski as he curled off a pick and roll on Benet’s final possession, he lobbed a pass underneath to teammate Colin Stack. Stack, a 7-foot sophomore, was fouled and made both free throws with 43.4 seconds left, providing the final margin in a thrilling 62-61 Benet win in the East Suburban Catholic Conference.

“I just came off pick and roll. I just spaced out and tried to attack the defense and there wasn’t room for me to finish so I hit Stack and he knocked down two big free throws,” Sularski said. “I’m just trying to create for myself or others. Whatever is the best route, I’m going to do that.”

Stack scored eight of his 14 points in the fourth quarter and also had six rebounds and two blocks. Sularski added 13 points and six rebounds, Patrick Walsh had 12 points on four first-half 3-pointers and Jayden Wright contributed 10 points for Benet (10-0, 6-0).

Stephen Brown scored 21 points and Darshan Thomas had 15 for Marist (8-2, 3-2), but Thomas missed two shots for the win on the RedHawks’ last possession in the final seconds.

Benet coach Gene Heidkamp was impressed with how Sularski handled the last possession when he found himself in no man’s land.

“He showed some poise,” Heidkamp said. “To be honest, he didn’t have anywhere to go. Instead of throwing it up for grabs, he saw Colin slide behind the defense and threw it over them. He was in trouble, there was no doubt. He was looking for a bailout and Colin made a great move.”

Benet's Colin Stack is fouled by Marist's Marquis Vance (25) during a game on Dec. 15, 2023 at Benet Academy in Lisle.

Stack likewise showed poise in knocking down his only two free-throw attempts of the game.

“Gabe drove around the corner, I saw my guy help and so I rotated low so he could get me the ball,” Stack said. “I went to score aggressively and got fouled. I practice free throws a lot. It wasn’t that big of a deal. Gabe does that a lot, makes plays like that.”

The gym was buzzing for the biggest challenge yet of a young, talented Benet team with three sophomores – Sularski, Stack and point guard Jayden Wright – in its top six. It also was a showcase of the state’s top two sophomores, Sularski and the 6-foot-7 Brown.

Benet led 30-29 at halftime with Walsh hitting four of the Redwings’ six 3-pointers to overcome eight Marist first-half offensive rebounds. The margin never was greater than four points either way over the final three quarters.

Benet’s Ewola Moukoulou hit a 3-pointer as time expired in the third quarter to put the Redwings up 49-46. Brown’s cutting layup had Marist up 61-58 with 2:01 left before Benet scored the game’s final four points.

“A lot of people were saying we needed a test,” Sularski said. “I think we proved ourselves tonight and played very well.”

Benet's Blake Fagbemi reacts to contact from Marist's Stephen Brown (5) during a game on Dec. 15, 2023 at Benet Academy in Lisle.

Brown and 6-foot-5 Achilles Anderson were a force around the basket for Marist, each scoring 11 points in the first half.

“They hurt us around the basket all night,” Heidkamp said. “I thought we did a better job around the rim in the second half than we did in the first half. I think they had five and-ones in the first half. All that was right at the rim. I thought their kids played a heck of a game. Their size, strength and athleticism was a heck of a challenge.”

Sularski, held to three points at halftime, came alive offensively in the third quarter with seven points. And he scored or assisted on Benet’s last five points with three of his own on free throws and Stack’s two foul shots.

“Time to make plays,” Sularski said. “I just had to make the plays to get us the win.”

“One of those games that were back and forth and came down to getting one last stop,” Heidkamp said. “It was an exciting game, back and forth, but it was nerve-wracking to be a part of.”

Joshua  Welge

Joshua Welge

I am the Sports Editor for Kendall County Newspapers, the Kane County Chronicle and Suburban Life Media, covering primarily sports in Kendall, Kane, DuPage and western Cook counties. I've been covering high school sports for 24 years. I also assist with our news coverage.