Benet has the Wright stuff in narrow victory over Oswego East

Jayden Wright was hot as a firecracker from beyond the 3-point arc in the first half Friday.

He stuck three free throws cold in the final minute.

Benet’s 5-foot-10 sophomore guard saved his most important work, though, for a final possession in which the ball never touched his hands.

Wright pressured Oswego East star Jehvion Starwood enough to force him to give up the ball, and Benet’s Parker Sulaver knocked away a Starwood pass.

The fifth-seeded Wolves never got a shot off on the game’s final possession as the fourth-seeded Redwings held on for a 57-54 win in the Class 4A Oswego East regional final.

“Jehvion is a great player; just trying to make it as tough on him as possible,” Wright said. “I’ve had experience fouling 3-point shooters late in the game. Just trying to make it as tough as possible for him.”

Wright scored 21 points — 18 in the first half, with four 3-pointers, Daniel Pauliukonis 12 points on four 3-pointers and Gabriel Sularski 9 points for Benet (27-6), which won its 10th regional championship under coach Gene Heidkamp and advanced to face No. 1 seed Bolingbrook in Tuesday’s sectional semifinal at East Aurora.

The Redwings never trailed Friday after jumping out to an 8-0 lead, and led by as many as 13 — but needed Wright’s quick feet and savvy to save the day late.

After Wright hit two free throws for the 57-54 lead with 22.4 seconds left, he appeared to have picked Starwood’s pocket near midcourt but was whistled for a foul with 7.6 seconds remaining.

On the final sequence, though, Wright gave Starwood no breathing space on the dribble in front of the Oswego East bench.

Benet’s Jayden Wright (3) shoots a three pointer against Oswego East's Jehvion Starwood (22) and Drey Wisdom (12) during a Class 4A Oswego East regional final basketball game at Oswego East High School on Friday, Feb 23, 2024.

Wright, as he referenced, has had late possessions go the other way. In December he fouled Curie’s Carlos Harris on a 3-point attempt in Benet’s eventual double-overtime loss in the Pontiac championship.

Not so Friday.

“That was Jayden’s best play of the game,” Heidkamp said. “People look at the shooting and his points — his defense on Starwood is what gave us a chance at the end when you know Starwood is going to get the ball that last possession. Jayden was patient defensively and eventually it went his way.”

Starwood, who sat the entire second quarter with two fouls, heated up with all nine of his points in the second half.

Oswego East coach Ryan Velasquez had the ball in the right hands at the end, but would have done it over on the final possession.

“I should have called time out,” Velasquez said. “We had one left, seven seconds on the clock — their pressure got to us. We had something drawn up but we couldn’t get to our spots. It’s tough.”

Of Wright, Velasquez marveled, “Man that No. 3 was good,” and there was no arguing that point.

Wright knocked down four 3-point shots before the game was five minutes old Friday, was fouled on one and converted the 4-point play. His fourth 3, from nearly 25 feet at the top of the key, had Benet ahead 15-6.

Falling down, Wright rolled in a jumper that hit the rim twice and dropped in as time expired in the first half for a 29-24 halftime lead.

“I don’t know how that one went in,” said Wright, who shot 6 for 10 from the floor. “I was just taking what the defense gave me. Credit to my teammates for finding me when I’m open.”

Benet’s Jayden Wright (3) reacts after being called for a foul against Oswego East's Jehvion Starwood (22) during a Class 4A Oswego East regional final basketball game at Oswego East High School on Friday, Feb 23, 2024.

Pauliukonis, a 6-foot-8 junior, picked up the scoring slack in the third quarter with three of his four 3-pointers as Benet’s lead grew to 47-34.

“I was always a shooter, and coach encourages me,” Pauliukonis said. “He gives me a green light to shoot it, so I shot it and they went in.”

Oswego East (21-11), seeking its third straight regional title, overcame Starwood’s early foul trouble and wouldn’t go away on its home court.

Sophomore Mason Lockett scored eight of his 12 points in the second half, Lockett’s second 3-pointer closing the Wolves within 49-45 with 6:23 left.

Benet’s head coach Gene Keidkemp talks to his team during a Class 4A Oswego East regional final basketball game against Oswego East at Oswego East High School on Friday, Feb 23, 2024.

Noah Mason had 14 points and six rebounds and Andrew Wiggins 13 points and five rebounds for Oswego East. Wiggins’ three-point play with 25.2 seconds remaining closed the Wolves to as close as they got in the second half, 55-54.

“Credit to our boys, I’m so proud of them,” Velasquez said. “It came down to that last possession.”

Wright, with just two shot attempts in the second half, calmly drilled two free throws for the 3-point lead.

“Jayden played great tonight. He gave us a big boost offensively and then he adjusted down the stretch and handled the ball,” Heidkamp said. “He played older than a sophomore. At this point they’re not sophomores.”

Benet, with three sophomores in its eight-team rotation, navigated the peaks and valleys of a regional final that in other years would play deeper in the postseason.

“This was like trying to win a sectional, that’s how good this sectional is,” Heidkamp said.

Oswego East, with just starter — Starwood — back from winning its first sectional title last year, still won 21 games and its sixth straight conference title.

“We had one returning guy with minutes and we had a lot of guys step up,” Velasquez said. “Our guys embraced their roll and put in the work.”

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.