BENTON – Sure there are still three weeks remaining on the regular season schedule since Benton and Potosi took to the court last Thursday night.
But that one game carried a lot of weight as to who might be standing atop the league standings later this month.
As it turned out, coach Jim Blaine’s Zephyrs used a third-quarter scoring run to pull ahead of the visiting Chieftains and eventually hang on for a 56-54 victory.
With the win, Benton improved to 6-2 in the Six Rivers Western conference, and keeps its hopes alive to possibly win the program’s sixth-straight conference title. With the loss, Potosi dropped to 6-2 in league play, with five conference games remaining.
“We made no bones about it, our reign was on the line,” said coach Blaine. “If we get beat, the five-year run is over because they’re not losing two more.”
Thursday night’s contest essentially came down to a 45-second span midway through the third quarter, where Benton went from trailing by three points, to leading by eight.
Coach Mike Uppena’s Chieftains trailed the Zephyrs 24-22 at the half, but had built a lead of 31-28 midway through the third quarter.
That’s when Benton senior, David Neis, went on an 11-point scoring run in a span of 45 seconds, making back-to-back 3-pointers on consecutive Potosi turnovers.
Neis, who was held scoreless in the entire first half, lifted his team from a three-point deficit to a lead of 39-31.
Going into the fourth quarter, coach Blaine’s squad held a 43-36 advantage, and prevented the Chieftains from making any sort of a comeback.
With four minutes to play in the game, Benton was holding onto a 10-point lead of 52-42, but according to coach Jim Blaine he could see his guys starting to tire.
Potosi then went on a 6-0 run to make it 52-48 with one minute to play.
With 38 seconds showing on the clock, Benton’s Alex Droessler made one-of-two free throws to give his team a 53-48 lead.
In transition of the missed free throw, Potosi got a 3-pointer from Hunter Leibfried, making the score 53-51 with exactly 30 seconds to play.
From there, Benton senior Mitchell Brant made two free throws with 28 seconds to play, making it 55-51.
A missed shot by Potosi junior Spencer Hawes was rebounded by Droessler, who was immediately fouled and made one-of-two free throws.
Potosi missed another field goal attempt at their end of the floor, while Laine Carver followed up with two missed free throws on Benton’s end.
Hawes ended the game by making a 30-footer at the buzzer, accounting for the 56-54 final.
“It was really a good game. Statistically it was pretty even,” said coach Blaine.
The stats were nearly identical, when you look at Benton pulling down 24 rebounds to Potosi’s 22.
The Zephyrs made 22-of-46 (47.8%) total field goal attempts to Potosi’s 22-of-47 (46.8%).
From beyond the 3-point arc, Potosi made 6-of-15 (40%) attempts, while Benton was 4-of-14 (28.5%) from long range.
Benton committed 14 turnovers to Potosi’s 16, while the Zephyrs had 10 steals to the Chieftain’s five.
The difference came at the free throw line, where Benton knocked down 8-of-14 (57%) attempts, compared to Potosi’s 4-of-7 (57%) performance.
Neis led the Zephyrs with 18 points and four assists, while Droessler added 16 points, five rebounds and three steals. Laine Carver pulled down a team-high six rebounds for the Zephyrs.
Potosi was led by Hunter Leibfried, who scored 17 points to go along with nine rebounds and four assists.
Hawes contributed 16 points, four assists and two steals, while Alex Wright added 11 points in the loss.
With the two teams now locked at 6-2, both are in control of their own destiny when it comes to winning this year’s conference title.
“It’s not going to be easy,” coach Blaine said of his remaining schedule. “It’s going to be a long three weeks, but it’s going to be a fun three weeks.”
“I’m trying to keep the pressure off of our guys,” said coach Uppena. “I want them to just go out and play, compete against whoever we’re playing, and just play our game and see what happens.”
This past Saturday afternoon, Benton defeated visiting Lancaster in a non-conference contest, 62-51.
Alex Droessler poured in a team-high 20 points to go along with eight rebounds, while David Neis added 18 points, 10 boards and four steals.
This past Monday night, Potosi suffered a 58-56 non-conference loss to host Mineral Point.
Langkamp and Hawes each finished with 13 points, while Wright added 11 and Leibfried had eight.
This Friday night, Potosi (11-6, 6-2 SRW) travels to Highland (8-8, 4-3 SRW), while Benton (14-2, 6-2 SRW) hosts Shullsburg (9-7, 5-2 SRW).
Benton 56, Potosi 54
(from Thursday, Feb. 2)
Potosi 6 16 14 14 - 54
Benton 14 10 19 13 - 56
Potosi - Logan Udelhofen 2, Hunter Leibfried 17, Mitch Langkamp 6, Alex Wright 11, Spencer Hawes 16, Tim Fritz 2. Totals - 22 4-7 54.
Benton - Laine Carver 6, Patrick Dixon 2, Nick Soppe 6, Alex Droessler 16, David Neis 18, Mitchell Brant 8. Totals - 22 7-14 56.
3-point goals - P: Hawes 3, Leibfried 3; B: Carver 2, Neis 2. Team fouls - P: 15; B: 10. Fouled out - None. J.V. - Potosi won, 51-31.
Mineral Point 58, Potosi 56
(from Monday, Feb. 6)
Potosi 15 7 16 18 - 56
Mineral Point 6 17 15 20 - 58
Potosi - Udelhofen 2, Leibfried 8, Keene 5, Langkamp 13, Wright 11, Hawes 13, Neuhaus 2, Fritz 2. Totals - 22 7-11 56.
Mineral Point - Staver 7, Poad 17, Benish 3, Ewers 8, Wendhausen 2, Steffes 19, Schultz 2. Totals - 23 8-16 58.
3-point goals - P: Leibfried 2, Wright 1, Hawes 2; MP: Staver 1, Poad 2, Benish 1. Team fouls - P: 18; MP: 10. Fouled out - None. J.V. - Mineral Point won.