A fast start propelled Omaha Benson past Bellevue West and into the Class A state tournament.
Benson, playing on its home court, scored 14 of the game's first 17 points and never looked back in defeating the Thunderbirds 78-69 in the District A-4 championship game Monday.
The Bunnies (18-5) opened up a 14-3 lead three minutes in and never trailed. They led 23-13 at the end of the first quarter.
“We had to get after it early and get stops on the defensive end,” Benson coach Donnie Johnson said. “West is a great shooting team, and we had to get out and challenge their shots.”
Benson was equally tough on the offensive end, hitting 9 of 13 shots in the first quarter and 16 of 30 for the half in building a 43-26 halftime advantage.
The Thunderbirds (14-10) drew within 53-40 late in the third quarter before Benson countered with an 8-1 run to take its largest lead with just under seven minutes remaining. The run was keyed by a highlight reel alley-oop dunk from Deion Wells-Ross and was capped by another dunk from Khyri Thomas to push the lead to 20.
Malik Hluchoweckyj did cause a few anxious moments for the Bunnies in the final quarter, hitting five 3-pointers as West twice pulled within seven points. But Benson did just enough at the free throw line to keep the margin from getting any closer.
Thomas finished with 25 points to lead all scorers while Tyree Peter added 16. Byron Snoddy and Wells-Ross joined the duo in double figures with 14 and 10, respectively. Hluchoweckyj finished with 21 points to lead the Thunderbirds.
Johnson, in his third year as coach, will take his second team to state as the Bunnies push for their first state title in 21 years.
“It's a new season, so you never know,” he said. “We'll play whoever we're lined up against.”
Bellevue West (14-10) ................. 13 13 14 29—69
Omaha Benson (18-5) ................. 23 20 14 21—78
BW: Brad Brazeal 9, Deon Pettigrew 12, Malik Hluchoweckyj 21, CJ Johnson 12, Chris Martin 8, Austin Moore 4, Christian Hatterle 3.
OB: Khyri Thomas 25, Byron Snoddy 14, Marshun Stewart 2, Michol Bradley 2, Maurice Bradley 4, Tyree Peter 16, Deion Wells-Ross 10, Thik Bol 5.