At right time, Benet’s Sularski makes right play to beat Marist

Gabe Sularski faced the toughest challenge of his young varsity career Friday.

Benet’s highly touted 6-foot-6 sophomore was the primary target of a physical Marist defense that held and bumped Sularski throughout. He didn’t make a shot in the first or fourth quarters Friday and only took 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 into the lane on Benet’s final possession, he went airborne and 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.

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

“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 8 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter and also had 6 rebounds and 2 blocks. Sularski added 13 points and Patrick Walsh 12 points on four first-half 3-pointers for Benet (10-0, 6-0). Stephen Brown scored 21 points and Darshan Thomas 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.”

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 Friday 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 was also a showcase of the state’s top two sophomores, Sularski and the 6-foot-7 Brown.

And it delivered.

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.”

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 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 Benet’s last five points on three of his own free throws and Stack’s two.

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

“Once 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-racking to be a part of.”

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