Cumberland Times-News

Basketball

March 16, 2013

Benedictine, O’Connell in final

Cadets pull away from Gonzaga, win 71-53

FROSTBURG — The Benedictine Cadets played their best ball when they needed to, outscoring the Gonzaga Eagles 28-9 in the fourth quarter to earn a shot at their first ACIT title after winning one half of the championship semifinals 71-53 Friday at Frostburg State University.

Great team play that saw seven players score in the fourth quarter, turned what had been a tightly played contest through the first three quarters into a double-digit lead just past the halfway mark of the fourth. A slow second quarter gave way to an action-packed stretch that saw 12 lead changes in a span of six minutes, before the storm broke up and Benedictine was the team that came out dry.

The Cadets walk into the finals of the 53rd tournament against a familiar foe when it meets Bishop O’Connell today at 8:15. O’Connell, which beat La Lumiere 65-60 in the other semifinal, lost to Benedictine 62-56 in the Virginia Independent School Athletic Association title game.

The Cadets got 19 points and 11 rebounds from Raymon Minor, while four other players scored in double figures. Point guard Nick Coppola scored 13 points, had seven assists and nailed a three-pointer during the fourth quarter that gave Benedictine its final momentum swing.

The Cadets were also successful in containing Gonzaga’s Kris Jenkins, the Washington Capital Athletic Conference Player of the Year. Averaging 18.6 points and over 10 rebounds coming into the tournament, the 6-foot-6, 250-pound senior was limited to three rebounds and three field goals with a total of 16 points. He did half of his work at the foul line, going 8 for 8.

The Cadets showed a slight edge after tip-off, relying on eight points from Minor in the first quarter to take a 19-12 lead by the beginning of the second. They led by as many as eight during the first eight minutes, taking a 17-9 lead on a Minor basket with 1:11 left.

Neither team used the second quarter too wisely as the schools combined to score 21 points. Gonzaga outscored Benedictine 11-10 using two field goals and six free throws, while the Cadets made five field goals.

Benedictine carried a 29-23 lead into the third quarter and scored the first two points of the third to make it 31-23. From there, the Eagles scored 10 straight to take their first lead, 33-31, with 4:40 left in the third. Jordan Abdur-Ra’oof started the run at the 7:20 mark, and Charles Glover made it 31-29 after going coast-to-coast for a bucket after getting a rebound. Glover, who scored 11 points and had five rebounds, also scored the tying basket 15 seconds later and less than that Ra’oof scored again to make it 33-31 Gonzaga.

Ra’oof, using eight points in the third quarter, finished with 10.

The most telling part for the Cadets during that three-minute scoreless stretch where Gonzaga stole the lead from them was the collectiveness the team and its players demonstrated.

“That calm comes from a combination of skill and experience,” said Benedictine Head Coach Robert Churchwell, the 1990 ACIT Most Outstanding Player while playing at Gonzaga. “Everything we do in practice is to prepare for games like this, so when the players get in these situations its nothing new. Also, when you play the kind of teams we do you’re going to find yourself in plenty of games that play out this way. As a coach, I know that if we as a staff prepare them correctly that the kids are talented enough to handle the rest.”

The score would remain within two points for the next six minutes as each team took turns retaking the lead from the other. That went on until Coppola assisted Minor to make it 47-46 at the 6:31 mark of the fourth. Thirty seconds later Coppola let the calm Cadets breath an even bigger sigh of relief by burying a three-pointer to make it 50-46. Robert Johnson, who finished with 13 points, stretched the lead to 52-46 and L.G. Gill hit a three-pointer to put the score out of reach at 55-46.

“We just stuck to the plan, and tried to make them respond to us,” said Churchwell. “We feel confident that if we can make the other team play our game that we can win every time out. We’ll make small adjustments throughout the game, but if we play our brand of basketball it doesn’t matter what the other team tries to do. We still know we can win.”

After reaching the finals and losing to DeMatha in 2011, this is the Cadets’ (33-4) second chance at winning their first title. Gonzaga, a five-time tournament champion, slips to 26-4. The Eagles play La Lumiere today at 6:30 p.m. for third place.

Chris Appel is a sportswriter for the Cumberland Times-News. Contact him at cappel@times-news.com.

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