Blowout victory sends Benedictine to Final Four
Even Mike Blaszczyk would later admit it was the not the most dramatic of 3-point field goals.
"It wasn't a dagger," the Benedictine University guard said of the last of his six 3-pointers in succession Friday in Lisle with a minute-plus remaining. "We had a pretty comfortable lead at the time."
But it was certainly symbolic of the collective shooting performance the Benedictine men displayed in their 93-73 victory over Alma College in a Division III NCAA Tournament Elite Eight contest.
The Eagles torched the Michigan-based Scots with 51 points from beyond the arc as part of a blistering 17-for-24 3-point field-goal showing.
In the process the Eagles advanced to the Final Four for the first time in program history.
Benedictine (30-0) will face Amhurst (Mass.) College Friday in the first semifinal in Salem, Virginia.
Alma had its equally historic season close at 24-7.
Blaszczyk (Naperville Central) hit four straight 3-pointers in the beginning moments of the second half to extend the Eagles' 44-25 halftime cushion to the first of their two largest advantages -- 29 points-- of the game.
The remainder of the game was a mere formality.
"I just got hot," Blaszczyk said. "My confidence went through the roof."
The junior was far from the only Benedictine player doing severe damage from 3-point land.
The Eagles hit 8 of their 12 attempts in the opening half.
Fellow starters Tahron Harvey (Glenbard East) and Luke Johnson (Wheaton Academy) connected from downtown for Benedictine in the first half, but the Eagles' substitutes were equally telling.
Reserves Brayden Olsen, Shawn Soelter and Matt Chaltin (Bartlett) combined for four additional first-half 3-pointers for the Eagles.
"That was a buzz-saw," Alma coach Sam Hargraves said of the reserves' first-half play. "They just picked up where (the starters) left off."
"We expect the (bench players) to play at the highest level," said Blaszczyk, who finished with a team-high 20 points to lead four players in double figures.
Johnson was equally dominant for the Eagles in the post.
Johnson added 15 points and game-high 14 rebounds to spearhead the Eagles' 41-29 advantage on the glass.
"The energy is everything to us," said the 6-foot-9 post from Naperville. "We are so confident and believe in each other."
Chaltin had an inside score to cap a 24-6 first-half Benedictine run that not only easily reversed the Eagles' lone deficit of the game but also provided the squad with a commanding 26-9 lead.
"We knew we had to score with them," Hargraves said. "We picked our worst night to have a bad shooting night."
As the Eagles were obliterating the Scots' 2-3 zone on a regular basis, Alma misfired on 26 of its 35 first-half shots.
Benedictine, on the other hand, shot 32 of 57 for the game, and its 9 second-half 3-pointers translated into a 70.8 percent total marksmanship rate from downtown.
Harvey and Olson had four-3-pointers apiece for the Eagles in registering 16 and 12 points, respectively.
"The talent, the unselfishness -- that's why we're good," Benedictine coach Keith Bunkenburg said. "Going to the Final Four is pretty special. We are prepared to win two more games."
Alma reserve guard Jason Beckman led all players with 23 points.