The path to victory: Bulldogs secure regional title championship

Host Bulldogs knock off Urbana in regional title game, advance to sectional

Each season, Mahomet-Seymour coach Chad Benedict emphasizes to his players the process of preparing for and playing the game and not the results of wins and losses.

The days leading up to the IHSA Class 3A Mahomet Regional championship, Benedict liked what he saw in practice.

His players were focused on the process, and for the third time in four years, the Bulldogs' process led to the exact results they were looking for: a regional championship.

Last Friday night, the Bulldogs knocked off Urbana 72-61 and were able to hold the regional plaque and cut down the nets in front of a raucous home crowd.

In the first quarter, with the Tigers' defense keyed on senior Cory Noe, the Bulldogs' offense was able to find the open man for easy looks at the basket.

Seniors Noah Benedict and Holt Campion took advantage, scoring a combined 16 of 18 of the team's first-quarter points.

"We had a great pregame speech by coach (Ryan) Martin," Noah Benedict said. "He has done our postseason stuff and he's really gotten us fired up, and we came out ready to play."

In that time, Noah Benedict also collected three rebounds and took a charge.

"They came out hot on Cory," Noah Benedict said. "Nothing was really designed for me. It's just our offense and how it works.

"I was just the one who got open and was fortunate enough to make a couple of those plays, and we got off to a hot start."

The game went how Chad Benedict thought his team could play in that the Tigers really tried to take away Noe, so that opened up things for Noah Benedict.

"When they keyed in on Cory and Noah, Campion and (Brooks) Coetzee really got us going in the second and third quarters," Chad Benedict said.

With 6:50 left the second quarter, tied at 18-18, M-S went on an 11-3 run to take a 29-21 lead. Urbana cut the lead to five at half, 36-31, but in the third quarter, the Bulldogs went on another 11-3 run.

With a 40-37 lead with just less than five minutes left in the third quarter, the Bulldogs' bench boosted M-S as it spread the lead.

"I wish everyone could see what went on in practice this year," Chad Benedict said. "These kids battled. We've had different times this year when we've had different kids on the floor.

"The seniors happened to close out and did a great job, but you have to give it to our bench kids, too, because they did a great job."

Senior Josh Johnson dished a no-look pass to Campion, who scored his sixth point of the quarter, and ball movement led to Noe scoring seven straight points asM-S took a 51-40 lead with 2:19 left in the third period.

"(Dawson) Finch and (Jordan) Veldman didn't play very many minutes tonight, but the minutes they played, they did a heck of a job," the head coach said.

Urbana made a push in the fourth quarter and cut the lead to 55-51 with 5:22 left and forced a Bulldog turnover, which threatened to cut it to a one-possession game. But the Bulldogs' defense held off the Tigers for the next 40 seconds.

"We talked at halftime that we might have an opportunity where we can extend and we've got to hold it," Chad Benedict said. "And I thought we maintained it because they made plays now. They made plays."

Coetzee, who also came off the bench to spark the Bulldogs' run with rebounds and defense, then hit a tough fadeaway in the lane with 4:22 remaining. Coetzee finished with seven points, three rebounds and two steals.

From there, Noe took over and scored the Bulldogs' last 15 points. With 3:53 left, Noe stole the ball and scored in transition and was fouled. After making three straight free throws, Noe was the recipient of great passing and was able to score six easy points underneath.

"I don't really think that I have to step up and score, but at the same time, my teammates look at me and have so much trust in me," Noe said. "A lot of the times, I was in transition and they got me the ball and I was able to get to the line. I got to thank my teammates for giving me the ball with the opportunity to do my thing."

Noe then made four straight free throws down the stretch to secure the win.

"Cory just kept creeping along and creeping along and then all a sudden down the stretch he starts making plays," Chad Benedict said. "It was a pretty special feeling to watch."

He finished 11 of 11 from the charity stripe and scored a game-high 36 points to go with five rebounds.

"It's always different your senior year," Noe said. "People try to say it isn't, but I just wanted to win so bad my senior year, especially knowing that it's my last."

Campion recorded 13 points, six assists and four rebounds. Noah Benedict scored 10 points while collecting a game-high nine rebounds and eight assists.

"This is definitely a cool experience to come out here with all my brothers," Noah Benedict said. "It's been a heck of a journey, and we're ready to cut down these nets. We've all put a lot of work in and we're going to enjoy the moment."

Sophomore Grant Coleman tallied four points, four assists and two rebounds. Johnson contributed three assists, two rebounds and two points.

M-S shot 28 of 44 (63 percent) from the field and finished with 22 assists. Urbana (9-19) made 10 of its 27 three-point attempts.

"I would also like to thank the community for its support," Chad Benedict said. "It's awesome to have this feeling on your home court."

The Bulldogs also won regional titles in 2015, when they also won a sectional championship, and in 2016.

The win improved the Bulldogs' record to 21-10.

M-S faced Springfield Southeast at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Eisenhower Sectional in Decatur. Springfield Southeast (24-3) is ranked No. 2 in Class 3A behind Chicago Morgan Park.

"They'll be ready," Chad Benedict said. "It's a senior group."

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