Rangers edge Patriots
Benton improves to 13-2, 4-0 in SIRR Ohio, with 59-56 victory

BENTON - For head coach Ron Winemiller and his 2017-18 Benton Rangers, the beginning of the season has been one of the surprises in southern Illinois boy's basketball.

After graduating most of what turned out to be a record-breaking 31-3 squad from a year ago which produced the first ever SIRR Ohio Division championship in the programs' history, this squads' expectations weren't nearly as high heading into this campaign months later.

However no one bothered to tell the returning players that they weren't supposed to defend their league title.

Coach Winemiller's group is off to a great beginning of the season and they are sitting in first place in the conference after a 59-56 win over Massac County at home on Alumni Court in Rich Herrin Gymnasium.

The Rangers made the defensive plays and converted the shots at the most opportune times, improving their overall mark to 13-2 and staying unbeaten in the league at 4-0.

They survived a back-and-forth contest by getting the job done defensively in the fourth quarter, forcing Coach Joe Hosman's team into four costly turnovers in the final minutes to drop the Patriots to 0-3 in the division and 5-9 overall.

“We tell the guys all of the time that if you want to win the conference you have to win them all at home and steal as many as you can on the road,” said Coach Winemiller. “We knew that this was a huge one and then Murphysboro gets beat tonight so we will wake up tomorrow in first place by ourselves.”

Six-foot-one senior guard Hamilton Page turned in a outstanding performance on Friday night for the hosts; netting 21-points while triggering a late run with a big 3-pointer in the fourth quarter as he scored nine of his points in the final frame.

Senior forward Parker Williams, who was the MVP of the recent Duster Thomas Hoops' Classic last weekend as the Rangers won the championship, continued to play well with 11-points.

But he also added a couple of important assists in the final moments of the game, getting the ball underneath the basket to Page for a pair of scores.

Senior teammates Gehrig Wynn and Cade Thomas each added nine-points for the Rangers as Benton showed no signs of a Christmas tournament hangover as they continued their excellent play.

The Patriots got 16-points from 6-foot senior guard Noah Taylor and 10-points from 6-foot-6 senior Isaiah Thompson.

Taylor nailed four 3-pointers for the Pats, exactly half of the eight made bombs by Massac County in the contest.

Sophomore guard Zach Travis and senior forward Cole Vickers added eight-points apiece.

Travis tossed in two of the 3-pointers while Vickers added his field goals from inside.

On most nights those numbers would have been good enough for a victory for Massac County but the big number that the Patriots had equated to a defeat.

Coach Hosman's club was turnover prone on Friday, committing 13 of them while the Rangers had just six miscues.

“Our kids have come so far since the Du Quoin Tournament and most people probably thought we couldn't come in here and compete but we stayed with them. I'm just pleased that we battled, we had the ball down one with under a minute left but we turned it over,” said Coach Hosman. “It is kind of what has hurt us all year. We turn it over and we don't get a shot.”

While the Rangers defensive strategy going into the contest was to try to keep Thompson from getting going down low, Benton allowed some open looks from the 3-point arc in the first half.

Massac County made the Rangers pay as Taylor hit three of his treys in the first half as his squad ended up 4-of-8 from the outside in the first 16 minutes.

Page led the Rangers in the first quarter, scoring nine of Benton's 10 in the first quarter as they fell behind 15-10.

Taylor added two more 3-pointers in the second quarter as Massac took a 21-16 lead.

However the Rangers rallied for a 27-26 lead at intermission as Thomas and Williams converted big field goal attempts.

Thomas nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the circle with under :05 left, which closed a 9-3 run.

Massac made a move, an 11-0 run, that gave Coach Hosman's squad its largest spread.

Travis nailed both of his 3-pointers of the game in the scoring spree, and Taylor added his fourth trifecta of the game as the Patriots led 37-29 with 4:40 left in the third.

But the Rangers never flinched, as Coach Winemiller's club turned things around by closing the third with a 16-4 run to take back the lead.

Page took an assist from Williams to begin the scoring streak, as he converted a conventional three-point play.

“Parker made some great passes and Hamilton scored around the rim. But not only that, we went down and got two huge stops at the end of the game up by one. We get a stop and then “G” (Wynn) makes the free throws. Then we get another stop,” said Coach Winemiller. “It was a great, high level basketball game. Welcome to the River-to-River.”

Williams then hit consecutive shots, one in the lane and the other from 20-feet on the left wing.

Thomas, and sophomore reserve Carson Lewis, hit 3-pointers with the Lewis conversion putting the Rangers up 45-41 heading into the fourth quarter.

Massac County got to within one point three different times in the fourth quarter but they never got back the lead.

“We are capable of hitting some shots. Isaiah (Thompson) doesn't force things and he is a great passer out of the post,” said Coach Hosman. “He is getting two and three people on him all of the time.”

Thompson got his inside game going as his teammates got him the ball on the low blocks and the senior hit three consecutive shots from just right of the lane.

His final bucket closed the gap to just 55-54 with 1:39 left.

“I think every game in the River-to-River is physical. I thought our guys did a good job of always being around him (Thompson) and he was able to get a few angles in there and could score. You're never going to shut a kid like him out. He is too talented,” said Coach Winemiller.

After one of the Williams assists to Page turned into a lay in, Taylor drove the left baseline for a basket for Massac.

“A couple of plays late we don't rotate on the back side of our half-court (defense) that we had worked on,” said Coach Hosman. “I'm really proud of the kids, they came in here in a pretty hostile crowd and we had a chance to win. And that is all you can ask for. We are going to keep battling and see if we can get the next one.”

But the Patriots had two late turnovers and Wynn gave the Rangers a three-point lead after making a pair of free throws with :28.9 left.

Massac had three different possessions in the final minute that resulted in two turnovers and eventually a missed 3-pointer by Eli Windhorst.

When Lewis snagged the missed trey, the Rangers had themselves another hard fought victory.

Benton ended up 23-of-47 from the floor overall while the Patriots finished up 21-of-44.

While Massac held a 26-18 rebounding edge, the 13-turnovers loomed large in the road loss.

“Give them (Massac) credit, they knocked down the shots we wanted them to take. We wanted to double team and get it out of Thompson's hands but they made us pay for it,” said Coach Winemiller. “You get to the point late in the game that if you make the stops, you win. If you don't, you lose. Our guys stepped up and that is what should happen when you have four of five seniors on the floor at the same time."

Massac County
Massac County (56) – Travis 0 2 2-2 8, Vickers 3 0 2-2 8, Taylor 1 4 2-2 16, Burgess 2 0 0-0 4, Windhorst 0 2 0-0 6, Mizell 1 0 0-0 2, Yates 1 0 0-0 2, Davenport 0 0 0-0 0, Lee 0 0 0-0 0, Mitchell 0 0 0-0 0.
2FG-13, 3FG-8, FT-6-6, PF-15.

Benton (59)
– Thomas 1 2 1-2 9, Page 6 2 3-5 21, Wynn 2 1 2-3 9, Lewis 0 1 0-0 3, Morris 0 0 0-0 0, Williams 4 1 0-1 11, Wills 1 0 0-0 2, Bonenberger 2 0 0-0 4..
2FG-16, 3FG-7, FT-6-11, PF-12.

Fouled Out
– None.
Technical Fouls
– None.