Pontiac Holiday Tournament semifinals: Benet takes down Joliet West and Simeon beats Curie

The undefeated Redwings knocked off Joliet West 56-47 in the semifinals of the 91st Pontiac Holiday Tournament on Friday.

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Benet’s Brayden Fagbemi (0) shoots the ball over Joliet West’s Jeremy Fears Jr. (11).

Benet’s Brayden Fagbemi (0) shoots the ball over Joliet West’s Jeremy Fears Jr. (11).

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

PONTIAC–Brayden Fagbemi had the most difficult assignment of the game. Benet’s point guard was tasked with handling all of the pressure from Joliet West’s ball-hawking guards.

The pressure ramped up in the second half, as Tigers guards Jeremy Fears Jr., Jeremiah Fears and Aaron Gant had plenty of fouls to give and were aggressively trying to get their team back in the game.

Fagbemi sparkled. The Johns Hopkins recruit not only absorbed the pressure, but he scored.

The undefeated Redwings knocked off Joliet West 56-47 in the semifinals of the 91st Pontiac Holiday Tournament on Friday.

“My teammates were available when I needed them,” Fagbemi said. “But this is what I work on. It’s what I do. I have to be able to handle the ball at the next level.”

Fagbemi led Benet (16-0) with 14 points and six assists.

“Brayden is an absolute warrior,” Redwings coach Gene Heidkamp said. “[Joliet West] is one of the best pressure teams in the state. Not only did he handle the pressure but he created shots for us and scored. He’s a bigtime player.”

Benet jumped out to a 16-6 lead and never trailed after that. Senior Niko Abusara had 10 points and 12 rebounds and Brady Kunka scored 13 for the Redwings.

“The biggest issue for us was definitely the start of the game,” Joliet West coach Jeremy Kreiger said. “We were more focused on being able to wear them down over the course of the game than on starting strong. There was a level of comfort we had from winning so many games in a row. As a coaching staff we have to better prepare them for that moment.”

Benet outrebounded Joliet West 30-22 and nullified the Tigers’ size advantage. Abusara’s soaring dunk in the first quarter was the standout moment of the three-day event.

“It was surreal,” Abusara said.

“I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that in person,” said Fagbemi.

McNair led Joliet West (11-3) with 15 points. Jeremiah Fears scored 12 and Fears Jr., a Michigan State recruit, added 11 points. He took just six shots.

“We knew they were going to make a run at us,” Heidkamp said. “I’m really proud of the last four and five minutes. They have the best pressure around. Hopefully we have something left for tonight.”

Benet will face Simeon in the title game. The Wolverines knocked off Curie 67-58 in the first semifinal.

Simeon guard Sam Lewis had 16 points and eight rebounds and Jalen Griffith added 15 points and five assists.

“Miles [Rubin] was contesting a lot of shots so we needed Sam to pick it up on the boards and he delivered,” Wolverines coach Robert Smith said. “He’s done a good job of it all year.”

Simeon’s Sam Lewis (11) reacts during the game against Curie.

Simeon’s Sam Lewis (11) reacts during the game against Curie.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Curie (10-4) was playing without lead guard Carlos Harris, who was injured at the end of the quarterfinal win against New Trier. The Condors hung with Simeon (11-0) until a 12-2 run by the Wolverines early in the fourth quarter.

It will be the final Pontiac game for Smith, who is retiring after this season. The tournament honored Smith in a ceremony on Wednesday.

“It will definitely be a special night,” Smith said. “The fans and the community here have been great to me. It’s going to be a little emotional win or lose.”

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