BATAVIA – Benet jumped all over Glenbard North at the opening of Friday’s Class 4A Batavia Regional final as well as at the start of the second half.
That left the Panthers in chase mode all night and while their effort was admirable, there was no catching the Redwings who ran away with the 60-40 victory.
Niko Abusara scored 17 points while Kyle Thomas and Brady Kunka each added 16 points for the Redwings (22-7) who advance to next Wednesday’s Bartlett Sectional semifinal against Wheaton Warrenville South (30-2).
“We knew what we had to do coming into the game and we wanted it bad,” Thomas said. “There really is no other word: we wanted it bad. We wanted to win. We wanted to get to that next round. We want to go as far as we can. We don’t want our season to be over. Everyone pitched in and we did what we had to do.”
Benet scored the first eight points of the game and led 17-2 after a basket inside from the 6-foot-10 Thomas with 1:44 left in the opening quarter.
“We put ourselves in a hole, but I was proud of how we fought back and stayed fighting,” Panthers first-year coach Kevin Tonn said. ”We had some spurts. We cut (the deficit) in half. But against a good, disciplined team like that, you put yourself that far behind and there’s only so much you can do. Credit to our guys, they didn’t quit, they fought until the very end, but Benet is a great team and you can’t make that many mistakes against them.”
Glenbard North (16-16) cut its deficit to 26-15 after Donald Davis started heating up from long-range with his first three of the game, but the Redwings got a three-point play from Abusara just before the end of the half.
The Redwings then scored the first 12 points of the second half to take their biggest lead of the night at 41-15.
“That was big,” Abusara said. “At first when our shots weren’t falling we went to our defense and once we picked up the defense and got in transition, we got open shots and you could just feel the momentum.”
Abusara certainly loves the feeling of getting a big block or rebound and converting it on the other end, especially when he can finish with authority.
“I feel like the best part of my game is transition,” he said. “If I get the ball or a rebound I just go and look for an open teammate or just take it myself and dunk it. I feel like this is where my game is best at.”
JJ Hernandez finally ended Benet’s 15-0 run with a three-pointer with 3:02 remaining in the third quarter as the Panthers would score 25 points over the final 11 minutes after Benet held them to just 15 for more than two and a half quarters.
“We had a scouting report, went over their stuff and knew what they were going to run so we neutralized it,” Thomas said. “The end of the game shows what happened.”
Davis and Hernandez led the Panthers with 11 points each.
“It’s not how we wanted to end it, but we had fun,” Tonn said. “It’s been nine years since we won a playoff game and it had been a long time since we had that many wins. It’s a credit to the kids. They worked hard and we have a lot of gym rats on the team. They bought in to what we were selling.”
The Redwings also advanced to a sectional semifinal when they last appeared in the state series in 2020, but then COVID-19 happened.
They saw their five-point halftime lead slip away in a 45-38 loss to the Tigers in the championship game of the Wheaton Warrenville South MLK Tournament on Jan. 17.