Wheaton North steps up to defeat Benet
One by one, Wheaton North's boys basketball players took turns calmly stepping to the line to knock down free throw after free throw.
Nothing was going to rattle the Falcons on Friday, not even the pressure of trying to win the program's first regional title since 2007.
Behind 20-of-22 fourth-quarter free-throw shooting - including 11-of-12 shooting by sophomore Deng Reng - Wheaton North topped Benet 64-55 in the Class 4A York regional championship game in Elmhurst.
The sixth-seeded Falcons (23-6), winners of nine straight, advance to the Hinsdale Central sectional semifinals to face No. 10 Hinsdale South (19-11), a 44-41 upset winner over No. 2 Geneva, at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
"We really wanted this 'W'," Reng said. "We're playing really well right now. It's the best feeling in the world."
Wheaton North built a 28-20 third-quarter lead before third-seeded Benet took a 29-28 lead on a pair of Matt Teglia free throws and 7 straight points by Jack Nolan. At a clear tipping point, the Falcons regrouped to score 6 straight points and never trailed again.
A Liam Lyman 3-pointer tied the game for Benet (23-7) at the start of the fourth quarter but Matt Brcka answered with his own 3-pointer for Wheaton North. Once again, the Falcons didn't falter.
"I felt like we kept calm and kept coming at them," said Falcons coach Dave Brackmann. "I'm so proud of them. They made big plays down the stretch, big shots, big free throws. Everybody contributed. And we knew it was going to take everybody to do it."
Reng, Rowan McGowen and Luke Anthony combined for six straight free throws as the Falcons, who made 26 of 31 free throws on the night, extended its lead to 49-41 with 2 minutes, 40 seconds left. Benet, which shot 7 of 26 from 3-point range, couldn't come closer than 6 points away the rest of the game.
"The bottom line is we lost to a very good team," Nolan said. "It's been a tremendous honor playing with all the guys and all the coaching staff. It's been the best years of my life."
Nolan scored 19 of his game-high 21 points in the second half for Benet. Lyman added 11 points to close a stellar two-year run for the senior tandem that led an all-senior starting lineup.
"This senior class has done so much for our program," said Benet coach Gene Heidkamp, whose team was the state runner-up last season. "As much as tonight hurts, the reality is they have a lot to be proud of."
Anthony, who made all eight of his free-throw attempts, led Wheaton North with 17 points. Reng scored 13 points and McGowen had 11 points and 7 rebounds. Brcka also scored 11 points.
"We just wanted to make sure that when they made a run, we made a run," Anthony said. "We didn't lose our emotions at all. We just kept playing our game."
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