O’Brien: Jack Nolan sparkles, Benet beats Bloomington

PONTIAC — Benet has played in two of the last three Class 4A state championship games, so it is a bit of a stretch to ever consider the program an underdog. But Bloomington’s undefeated record swayed the committee that seeds the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, so the Purple Raiders entered as the No. 4 seed ahead of the Redwings.

The game was tight throughout, but with 18 seconds to play it appeared that Bloomington had it in hand, but by four points.

Then Jack Nolan found a way to even it up. The crafty senior was fouled on a made three-pointer with 13 seconds left. He tied the game with a free throw. Then he played the hero again in overtime, driving and scoring a bucket with six seconds remaining to give Benet the 59-57 win over the Purple Raiders in the quarterfinals.

“No lead is ever safe,” Benet coach Gene Heidkamp said. “It was one of those games when it just went back and forth. I thought our kids played with a lot of poise. Four of those kids played in the state championship game last year.”

Nolan scored 30, more than half of Benet’s points. Liam Lyman added 16 and no one else scored more than five.

Heidkamp thought his decision to go small in the second half of the game was a key factor in the win. Benet has two effective but inexperienced big men. Sticking with an all-guard lineup allowed the team to spread the floor more.

“Absolutely that helped,” Nolan said. “I thought that was a big turning point in the game. It got us opportunities.”

Chris Payton, a star sophomore, had 13 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks for Bloomington (9-1).

Benet (10-2) will face the winner of the Curie-Danville game in the semifinals on Friday. The Redwings and Curie played in the Class 4A state title game last season.

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