Willmar holds off Benson; will battle NLS in Bremer Bank final for 7th straight time
WILLMAR -- For the seventh December in a row, the Willmar Cardinals and the New London-Spicer Wildcats will tangle for county honors at the boys basketball holiday tournament.
Willmar topped a tenacious Benson team 66-57 in Saturday's late game of the Bremer Bank Holiday Classic.
NLS is now 8-0 and ranked No. 2 in Class AA. Willmar is 6-0 and No. 4 in AAA. Each team has won three times in the recent six-year stretch.
Willmar coach Steve Grove casts the Wildcats as the favorite for tonight's game.
"They are athletic and experienced; most of them were a big part of the team that played here last year," said Grove. "I'd definitely give them the edge."
Willmar won 70-65 a year ago. While there's little advantage in inside height, the Wildcats' forwards have the sturdy build of a championship football team.
Benson shot to a 5-0 lead on consecutive baskets by Brennan Kent, who soon left with a turned ankle and would not return. Willmar then bolted in front 14-5 and would lead 35-20 at the break.
The Cardinals added an 8-0 run out of the locker room and built the margin to 46-24. Grove sent in four substitutes and the offense went slack while Benson mounted a 12-0 run.
But the Braves were unable to get any closer than eight points the rest of the way.
"That's a good team," said Benson center Sam Peterson, who led all scorers with 21 points, 15 of them coming in the second half. "We won the second half. We fought. That's a good game for us."
Four players reached double figures for Willmar. Taylor Filipek bagged 19 points, followed by guard Andrew Bangen with a season-high 14 points, Sam Esboldt with 13 and Brian Reeves with 12.
"Reeves is more athletic than I thought," commented Benson coach Roger Lindahl. "We doubled down on Filipek and cheated on Reeves whenever he got a touch. You've got to stop those two. It was a good-help defense."
Willmar 66, Benson 57
Benson(2-3) 20 37 -- 57
Willmar (6-0) 35 31 -- 66
BENSON - 24-57 FG (4-12 3-pt); 5-7 FT; 28 rebounds; 19 fouls ... Scoring: Cody Jaeger 9, Jed Eix 2, Jeff Berens 4, Brennan Kent 5, Carter Fennell 5, Derek Hilleren 3, Sam Peterson 21, Keagan Pangrac ... 3-point shots: Jaeger, Kent, Fennell, Peterson ... Rebound leaders: Peterson 5, Hilleren 6, Pangrac 6 ... Assist leaders: Fennell 9 ... Steal leaders: Hanson 3, Jaeger 2
WILLMAR - 24-48 FG (4-12 3-pt); 14-22 FT; 22 rebounds; 10 fouls ... Scoring: Mark Dunham 2, Jimmy Unger 2, Andrew Bangen 14, Brian Reeves 12, Sam Esboldt 13, Taylor Filipek 19, Jake Damhof 4 ... 3-point shots: Bangen 2, Esboldt 2 ... Rebound leader: Filipek 9 ... Assist leaders: Filipek 3 ... Steal leaders: Esboldt 4, Filipek 3 ... Blocked shots: Filipek 5