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Okafor, Whitney Young prove a tough matchup for Benet
By Kevin Schmit | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 2/23/2013 10:48 PM

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Benet’s boys basketball team faced top-notch competition all season long.

It didn’t get any easier on Saturday.

Against nationally ranked Chicago Public League champion Whitney Young and 6-foot-11 center Jahlil Okafor — regarded as the No. 1 junior in the country — the Redwings simply couldn’t match up.

The Dolphins will enter the Class 4A playoffs as the favorite to win the state title on the heels of Saturday’s 61-46 victory over Benet in the 18th annual McDonald’s City-Suburban Showdown at House of Hope Arena in Chicago.

The game was billed as a showdown between two of the state’s premier big men, and Okafor definitely delivered while facing 6-9 Benet junior Sean O’Mara. Okafor scored a game-high 21 points and grabbed 7 rebounds, while O’Mara also had his moments with 10 points and 5 boards.

“He’s the best player in the nation,” O’Mara said of Okafor. “There’s only so much you can even do. You just have to do the best you can to keep the ball out of his hands. I did as much as I could, but he’s the No. 1 player in the nation for a reason.”

While O’Mara had his hands full in the post, Benet’s perimeter game struggled. The Redwings (24-5) made 32 percent of their shots, including 7 of 22 on 3-point attempts.

Whitney Young (24-3), meanwhile, built its lead on 65 percent first-half shooting. Miles Reynolds scored all 13 of his points in the first half to go along with Okafor’s 8 points.

“The approach is a little different,” Okafor said of facing a center of O’Mara’s caliber. “Playing against Sean O’Mara I knew I was going to have to work harder on defense. Not on offense, that was the same.”

Whitney Young’s 10-0 run in the first quarter erased a 5-4 Benet lead and put the Dolphins ahead to stay. Benet committed 6 of its 16 turnovers in the opening quarter.

After Whitney Young scored the first two baskets of the second quarter, including an Okafor dunk, the margin never shrank below double digits. Okafor left the game with about three-and-a-half minutes to play in the game, but not before unleashing an array of impressive post moves.

“The chance of us seeing a better team than that in the playoffs are rare, unless we see them in Peoria,” said Benet senior Pat McInerney, who scored all 8 of his points in the first half. “I definitely think we can benefit from playing against their athleticism. It’s nice to get a prep like this going into the playoffs.”

The Redwings, the second seed in the Class 4A Bolingbrook sectional, begin regional play Tuesday at home when they face Monday’s winner between Plainfield North and Downers Grove North.

“We didn’t play as well as we’d like today, and I give them a lot of credit for that,” said Benet coach Gene Heidkamp. “But we’re prepared as far as playing all styles you could possibly play. I think we’ve done everything we can to put ourselves in a position to be ready in the state tournament.”

Follow Kevin on Twitter@kevin_schmit