LIVINGSTON, N.J. -- It was far from a textbook performance, but St. Benedict's made all of the key plays down the stretch in outlasting the Hun School, 65-57, on Wednesday afternoon at Newark Academy.
The victory lifted the Gray Bees into a rematch of last year's New Jersey State Prep finals on Saturday afternoon at the Hun School, where St. Benedict's will face Blair Academy in a 5:45 p.m. tip-off.
Earlier this season, Hun handed the Gray Bees a regular season loss. For much of yesterday's prep semifinal clash, Hun had St. Benedict's on the ropes.
"Sometimes you play a team that for whatever reason, is comfortable playing against you," St. Benedict's Head Coach Danny Hurley said. "They're a team that had already beaten us, and I think that might have gotten into our heads a little bit and played into their confidence."
The Gray Bees rallied thanks to an unlikely source, burly 6-4 senior forward Aswan Minatee. Minatee hit a pair of free throws to deadlock the game at 51, and then hit one of two free throws to give St. Benedict's a lead it would never relinquish.
Moments after the free throw, Minatee cleaned up some loose change around the basket to give the Gray Bees a 56-51 lead with 2:40 to play in the contest. UMass bound Artie Bowers threw a cross court pass intended for Stanley Branch that bounded around and wound up in Minatee's hands for the easy deuce.
Point guard Bashir Mason (Drexel) helped St. Benedict's build the lead to 10 points late in the contest. He forced a pair of critical steals in the final 2:18 and knocked down three of four free throws to ice the game for St. Benedict's.
Minatee led the Gray Bees with 17 points, while Bowers chipped in 15 and Branch 12. J.R. Smith added 10 points, while junior swingman Alex Galindo was held to four points and fouled out.
Hun, which is located in Princeton, plays similar to the Ivy League program that shares the same town, utilizing lots of motion and smart passing to get open looks from the perimeter.
"It's disruptive," Hurley added. "They shot the ball real well again, and I think we settled a little bit offensively, and didn't shoot the ball that great either."
The bottom line is that the Gray Bees managed to survive and advance. Last month, St. Benedict's defeated Blair at home in Newark. They hope to repeat the feat on Saturday in Princeton.
Last year, Blair won the regular season matchup but lost in the Prep Championship to the Gray Bees, so revenge will certainly be on the Bucs' mind this weekend.