HANOVER – The crowd that attended the 1A Sectional semifinal at River Ridge High School got their money’s worth Wednesday night.
The game featured two of the area’s top phenom scorers in Eastland’s Dalton Shaner and Dakota’s Brett Benning, and the duo put on quite a show.
But in the end, Shaner got the last laugh. The Cougar senior scored 39 points to help his team defeat the Indians 54-50.
He and Benning combined for 76 of the 104 points scored in the game.
“It was a lot of fun,” Shaner said. “This is my first time playing him in high school. We played together all summer, and have always talked about how we wanted to play each other. It was fun going back and forth with him.”
After an evenly matched first quarter, the Cougars (25-4) seized control in the second. They built a 20-13 lead with 4 minutes to go in the half.
Their defensive task then got a little tougher, as defensive guru Skylar Paulson went to the bench after picking up his third foul.
But even without their best defender matched up on Benning, the Cougars were able to pull through.
On back-to-back possessions, Shaner found a freelancing Brighton Haverland behind the Dakota zone. After receiving Shaner’s laser-beam passes, the freshman scored easily, helping Eastyland hold a 30-21 lead at the break.
“The first quarter, I think I didn’t do bad until they called two fouls on me,” said Paulson, about guarding Benning. “Second quarter I picked up a third, and then I had to sit out. Our help defense lacked. We emphasized it in practice, but we needed more of it. If we are playing that good of a player, we need to respect him.”
The show really picked up in the third.
Down by nine points with 3:44 left in the quarter, the Indians (18-8) made their run. Benning strung together a 9-0 run to close out the quarter, with the tying basket coming on an exclamation point.
As he watched the Cougars run time off the clock to get the last shot, the Dakota senior poked the ball away. On the other end, he flushed it down with a two-handed slam with 5 seconds on the clock.
“We really locked down in the third quarter, and started getting to the hole a little more,” Benning said. “We kept being aggressive, and before we knew it, it was tied up at the end of the third. I saw the ball out there, loose from his hand. I made a swipe and luckily I got it. It was off to the races from there.”
The Indians’ run correpsonded to Paulson pickiung up another foul, and heading to the bench for the final 6 minutes of the third.
“Brett just got hot in the third,” Shaner said, “which isn’t that hard for him to do. We just had to weather it, and when Paulson came back, it gave us a lot better chance, because he made it tougher on Brett.”
Benning added another basket to open the fourth to give his team the lead, and spark the final shootout. Shaner answered only from behind the 3-point arc and at the free-throw line in the fourth, amassing 14 points in the final stanza. Benning used his height and athleticism to finish around the hoop, but only scored eight points.
“If someone thinks that they can stop [Benning] from scoring, they need to get on my staff,” Eastland coach Tony Dunlap joked. “You’re not going to stop him from scoring.”
The only other player to score in the quarter was Dakota sophomore Casey Brokhausen. He got a putback, which is an area the Cougars need to improve on looking ahead to their Friday matchup with Indian Creek.
“I had to sit out the last 6 minutes when they went on that run,” Paulson said. “We just needed to get rid of their second-chance points. From the bench, that was just killing me.”
“What really disappointed me,” Dunlap said, “was our lack of effort to screen out, and allowing them to get second and third shots. That’s what made this game a struggle. We did pretty good on their first shots, but we would not screen out until the beginning of the fourth.”
Class 1A River Ridge Sectional semifinal
Star of the Game: Dalton Shaner, Eastland, 39 points, 24 in second half.
Key performers: Brett Benning, Dakota, 37 points, 22 in 2nd half, 6 rebounds. Skylar Paulson, Eastland, 8 points, 4 rebounds, main defender on Benning
Up next: 1A River Ridge Sectional final, Eastland vs. Indian Creek, 7 p.m. Friday