BENTON – Benton’s David Neis made it clear that if Shullsburg wanted to knock the Zephyrs from their five-year perch atop the Six Rivers West they were going to have to stop him to do it. The Miners couldn’t do it.
Neis scored 11 of his game-high 26 points during a key Zephyrs’ run in the second quarter as #10-ranked Benton overwhelmed Shullsburg, 55-39, in a battle for first-place in the SRW at BHS on Friday, Feb. 10.
The two teams came into the night virtually atop the conference standings with the Zephyrs holding just a slim 1/2-game lead over the Miners and Potosi. And, they were also the two hottest teams in the league with Shullsburg winning eight straight games since a 45-27 loss to Benton back on Jan. 5, and the Zephyrs winning seven consecutive outings since a 43-41 loss to Cassville on Jan. 10.
Something had to give in this one; and, unfortunately, it was the Miners who couldn’t stop giving points up to Neis and the Zephyrs.
Neis had an old-fashioned three-point play and teammate Laine Carver followed with his own 3-pointer to slingshot the Zephyrs (16-2 overall, 8-2 in SRW) out to an early 8-2 advantage.
Junior guard Pierce Russell brought the Miners (10-8, 6-3) back within three twice in the final minute of the first quarter, but Neis scored 11 of the Zephyrs’ 15 points in the second quarter to extend the hosts’ lead to 28-15 by halftime.
“We prepared for this game just like all of the others, the difference was that we didn’t make shots, and we had a hard time containing David Neis. He is the best player in the league and we did not execute what we had practiced to do against him. He is the difference-maker for their team every night. He shows a lot of patience, but is able to turn it on whenever his team needs him,” said Shullsburg head coach Mark Lierman.
Benton refused to let the Miners back into the game as they matched each Shullsburg score with one of their own throughout the second half to maintain their double-digit lead. The Zephyrs also took care of business at the line, converting 10 of their 11 free throw attempts to sink the Miners.
“Our shots didn’t fall for us like they had been in the past eight games. I am proud of the guys for continuing to play hard. There is a lot of season left, so we have to stay confident and get back to what we do,” Lierman explained.
Mitchell Brant chipped in with 10 points for Benton, while Carver added seven and Droessler and Brandon Lyne netted five each for the hosts.
Russell paced the Miners with 10 points, two assists and a steal. Senior guard Nate Carrier tallied eight points and two assists, while junior guard Kyle Hoppman added seven points.
Sophomore center John Meyer also contributed five points and four rebounds for Shullsburg.
“It is my hope that we use this experience in a big game to improve our play down the stretch,” commented Lierman.
At Shullsburg, on Tuesday, Feb. 7, the Miners were able to avenge one of their earlier conference losses this season when they smothered the visiting Cassville Comets, 46-32, in a Six Rivers West showdown.
The Miners opened up a tight game with a 20-7 second-quarter run and then doused the Comets’ comeback hopes by outscoring the guests 17-3 in the third quarter to open up a 42-17 advantage.
Pierce Russell had a big night for the Miners with a game-high 12 points along with five rebounds, four assists and a steal, while Collin Hauser added 10 points and Reid Schwartz came off the bench for nine points and six rebounds.
Ty Kartman, who torched the Miners for 31 points in the Comets’ 54-53 come-from-behind win over the Miners on Dec. 20, was limited to just nine points in Tuesday’s game.
Shullsburg hosts Potosi in a key SRW game on Thursday, Feb. 16, and head to Highland for another league game on Tuesday, Feb. 21.
Shullsburg… 8 7 11 13 - 39
Benton…..…. 13 15 15 12 - 55
Leading Scorers: Pierce Russell 10, Nate Carrier 8, Kyle Hoppman 7, John Meyer 5, Collin Hauser 3, Jacob Scott 2, Reid Schwartz 2, Hervey Trejo 2.
Cassville…… 7 7 3 15 - 32
Shullsburg… 5 10 17 4 - 46
Leading Scorers: Pierce Russell 12, Collin Hauser 10, Reid Schwartz 9, Kyle Hoppman 7, John Meyer 4, Jacob Scott 2, Nate Carrier 2.