SAVANNAH, Mo. — Benton left little doubt in Friday night’s matchup between two Class 4 District 16 rivals, defeating Savannah by double digits, 62-42 at Savannah High School.
Led by Chol Ater’s 19 points, the Cardinals (3-3) rebounded from Wednesday’s loss to Maryville in resounding fashion, controlling the Savages for a majority of the game in their own building.
The Cardinals held a 17-7 lead by the end of the first quarter, continuing the Savages first-quarter woes through four games this season.
Much like in their matchup with Maryville last week, a 12-3 deficit in the first quarter dimmed Savannah’s hopes for a win early on.
Despite a few lulls on offense that allowed Savannah to creep within five, the Cardinals were able to compose themselves and regain a sizable lead.
“We talked about, when we get that lead again, we can’t let up,” coach Gary Belcher said. “We’re a young group trying to learn to play with a lead, I thought we showed some patience on offense.”
After spending three days in the very same gym last week, Benton Belcher said the team’s level of familiarity playing in a typically foreign environment was unique.
“We played three games here last week, so four of our five games have been in this gym, so I think the guys feel somewhat comfortable in here now,” Belcher said.
Junior forward Mo Blakley contributed with 12 points, six of which came during a 9-0 run late in the third to give the Cardinals a comfortable 50-33 lead.
“I thought we did a good job continuing to attack the basket and for the most part, we found the open guy, got a good look, we got to the foul line too,” Belcher said.
While Benton was able to find success in transition offense and moving the ball into the paint, Savannah struggled to create easy shots as the Savages had to scratch and claw for every basket.
A couple of key 3-pointers in the fourth by Malique Bennet and Blakely effectively sealed any chance for a Savannah comeback.
Belcher said the team’s success in rebounding was one of the biggest differences, particularly in the final 8 minutes.
“I thought the biggest part was when they took shots for the most part, it was one shot, we got the rebound and they weren’t getting second changes,” Belcher said. “You don’t wanna miss and have them get it right back again.”
Despite an impressive win over a rival, Belcher stressed that with the season still early, how the team develops between now and the end of the season is critical.
“I challenged them with this same thing tonight, yeah you came in here and you beat these guys but they’re coming to our place in February,” Belcher said. “I think these guys will continue to work and get better.”
In particular, Belcher pointed to communication between younger players as an aspect that they hope to improve upon.
Benton moves on to play Center on Tuesday in Kansas City. Savannah will hit the road for an out-of-class matchup with Lathrop.