Casey Benson's big night leads Corona del Sol back into Division I boys basketball championship game

Casey Benson's big night leads Corona del Sol back into Division I boys basketball championship game

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Casey Benson's big night leads Corona del Sol back into Division I boys basketball championship game

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For much of the game, two freshmen stood out on the Wells Fargo Arena court Friday night.

But with the game on the line, a chance at a third consecutive state championship at stake, a senior came through to lead top-ranked Tempe Corona del Sol.

Point guard Casey Benson, looking for a third championship ring, went on a late third-quarter tear, helping Corona del Sol pull away from Gilbert Perry for a 78-66 Division I boys basketball semifinal victory.

Freshman guards Markus Howard of Perry and Alex Barcello of Corona del Sol took turns making shots in the first half with Howard making the biggest, a bank shot just past the mid-court line as the half expired.

Howard had 15 points and Barcello 13 in the half. Barcello finished with 21 points, showing great poise and knocking down tough shots.

But this was Benson’s night, playing through a cramp in his leg, distributing and driving. He finished with 30 points and six assists, and had no turnovers in the second half, setting up a state championship rematch with Phoenix Pinnacle on Saturday at 3 p.m. at Jobing.com Arena.

Corona del Sol (33-1) will try to tie Mesa Mountain View’s big-schools state record for most wins in a season. Its only loss was to national powerhouse Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep.

“He gutted it out tonight, and that’s why he’s the Player of the Year,” coach Sam Duane Jr., said of Benson.

The key was getting out on the wings and containing the Howard brothers in the final quarter after Jordan and Markus combined for 12 points during a third-quarter flurry that kept Perry in the game.

Markus Howard had 26 points on 10-of-24 shooting, 4 of 12 from 3-point range, but after making two quick shots to start the final quarter, he didn’t score again.

Jordan Howard, a senior, who finished his career with 12 points, didn’t score after his 3 with 3:45 left in the third period cut the score to 51-46.

“They were getting easy looks out there from the arc, and once we went to the 1-3-1 zone, we did a much better job,” Duane said. “We wanted to make them move into different spots and not step off the dribble, more spot-up shots. (Markus) still got some points but I think it changed the whole flow of their offense.”

In the third quarter, Benson took over, keeping Howard from going off. His team leading 46-43 with five minutes left, Benson scored nine points, including a 3 that helped Corona del Sol take a nine-point lead entering the final period.

Benson’s steady leadership, and Corona del Sol’s pressure on the shooters, kept Perry from getting any closer than seven points in the final quarter.

“We just wanted to take care of the ball, make free throws down the stretch and rebound,” said Benson, last season’s azcentral sports’ Big Schools Player of the Year. “We defended, made stops and that was big for us.”

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Casey Benson's big night leads Corona del Sol back into Division I boys basketball championship game
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