Sitting on the bench with four fouls, the Risco senior had to watch as Dora began mounting a final charge in the fourth quarter of Tuesday's Class 1 Sectional game at Poplar Bluff. But once back in the game, Bennett took over, leading the Tigers to a 70-63 win, the first playoff win in school history.
"You can't say enough about (Bennett)," said Risco coach Brandon Blankenship. "He's been a tough competitor for us all year. We feel good when the ball is in his hands, especially at the end of the game."
Risco looked to be taking control of the game early in the fourth when Bennett knocked down a shot to put Risco ahead 55-49. But a short time later he and fellow senior Zack Williams found themselves on the bench with four fouls.
While the seniors were on the bench, Dora went on a 9-2 run, taking a 58-57 lead with 3:47 remaining in the game. Then Bennett took over.
The senior took a contested 3-point shot from the left corner and the ball bounced high off the front of the rim and then somehow found the bottom of the net, giving Risco a 60-58 lead, ending a Tiger scoring drought that had reached three minutes.
"I made about a half-second prayer and I guess God answered me," laughed Bennett about the shot.
"That is just a kid shooting with confidence," Blankenship said. "Coming off of a good district championship game, he was shooting the ball well and he hit several 3's tonight too. When he has that high level of confidence we have the faith in him to take those big shots."
The shot instantly gave the Tigers a shot of adrenaline they needed. The teams traded baskets until Chris Pavy scored to give the Tigers a 64-62 advantage. A Dora turnover then turned into a free throw opportunity for Risco's Luke Bixler who hit one-of-two putting the Tigers up 65-62 with 1:06 to play.
Risco then stopped Dora on the ensuing possession and the Falcons were forced to foul Bennett. The senior, who had missed the front ends of two one-and-ones earlier in the quarter, stepped up and drained both free throws with 38 seconds left and then added two more 10 seconds later, sealing the win for Risco.
Bennett said he wasn't worried about his two earlier misses when he stepped to the line.
"I've been working on free throws all my life," Bennett said. "Whenever I miss on the free throw line I feel like it's a fluke, so I wasn't really worried about it."
Bennett finished with a game-high 25 points, grabbing six rebounds, dishing out four assists with three steals.
While Risco earned the win, it wasn't without some tense moments earlier in the game as well.
Both teams started slow and were tied 14-14 after the first quarter, but Risco jumped out quickly in the second quarter with the help of Bixler. The sophomore scored nine points in the quarter, helping the Tigers to a 34-29 lead.
"I just knew we had to step up," Bixler said. "I just wanted to do the best I could for my team and just get us forward and move us on to the next game."
The 5-9 sophomore finished the game with 13 points including four steals and three rebounds, including one in the final minute among a group of larger Dora players.
"He's just tough as nails," Blankenship said of Bixler. "For as tall as he is, he is such a great competitor. He knows how to win. He's done it his whole life playing against bigger competition."
But just as Risco seemed to be gaining control, Dora made a late run, tying the game at 34-34 with 31 seconds remaining, sending the teams into halftime tied.
The second half, Dora began to take over on the glass, grabbing six straight rebounds at one point early in the third quarter. Even as Risco grabbed the lead heading into the fourth, the Falcons continued to grab rebound-after-rebound, leading to a Blankenship timeout.
"I had to call a timeout, I think the beginning of the fourth quarter, and I had to tell them 'Hey, Dora's just wanting it more than we are,'" Blankenship said. "That is what it just seemed like. I think that just sparked us to man up and get a little tougher."
The talk helped as Risco stepped up their play on the glass in the final minutes, including several big rebounds from Williams. The 6-4 senior finished the game with six rebounds, three in final minutes of the fourth quarter, to go along with his 13 points.
"I was just trying to help the team out and get rebounds to keep us in the game," Williams said. "We just had to be tougher than them and outwork them on the boards."
Dora outrebounded Risco 41-24 for the game.
The Falcons (19-10) were led in scoring by Pardo and Justin Von Allmen who each finished with 14 points apiece. Pardo grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds. Billy Sexton finished with 10 points.
With the win, Risco improves to 17-10 and will now take on No. 1 ranked Scott County Central at 2:45 p.m. at Three Rivers Community College.
"Being down to the final eight teams in the state is a big accomplishment," Blankenship said. "And you know, you have to play the games. Foul trouble could happen at any point in time so you just have to go out there and play and lay everything on the line."
RISCO (70) -- Luke Bixler 13, Chris Pavy 10, Josh Long 7, Brandon Bennett 25, Jeremey Fowler 2, Zack Williams 13. FG 23, FT 16-24, F 21. (3-pointers: Bennett 4, Bixler 2, Long 2. Fouled out: none).
DORA (63) -- Jonathan Smith 4, Jay Roberts 8, Billy Sexton 10, Jacob Pardo 14, Dylan Fox 4, Justin Von Allmen 14, Dillan Collins 9. FG 22, FT 15-25, F 19. (3-pointers: Sexton 2, Von Allmen 1, Collins 1. Fouled out: none).