With one of its top scorers stuck on the bench, Fairfield led by senior Keon Benjamin defeated Lakota West by the score of 70-59 in a battle of Greater Miami Conference second place teams Tuesday.
Benjamin knocked down four 3-pointers and scored a career high 24 points, while Fairfield’s second-leading scorer Brandon Murphy had to sit out after recording two technical fouls in the Indians’ 47-43 win against Oak Hills Friday.
“We say it all the time, ‘next guy in has to play,’” Fairfield head coach Tim Austing said. “It is part of the season, guys will go down with injuries or get in foul trouble. You just have to move on.”
“Keon creates a difficult matchup because it makes them cover a 3-point shooter with a center. It only works if you can really shoot it and Keon can really shoot it.”
The Firebirds, who were coming off a 56-53 upset win against Middletown Friday, led the game 20-16 at the end of the first quarter. Junior shooting guard Ali Barnes was perfect in the quarter, going 3-for-3 from the floor and was 1-for-1 at the free-throw line.
Benjamin, however, would knock down a 3-pointer during a 9-0 Fairfield scoring run to begin the second frame. After a pair of free throws by Benjamin, Fairfield increased its lead to 11 points with 2:03 left in the third quarter.
Lakota West quickly cut the lead to three after going on an 8-0 run of its own, capped off by an old fashioned 3-point play by Barnes.
The comeback attempt was eventually spoiled when Benjamin made his fourth 3-pointer of the game, giving Fairfield a 54-47 with 3:55 left in the game.
“I was just dialed in,” Benjamin said. “We have a little rivalry with them – they don’t like us, we don’t like them. That is what really gave me my motivation.”
Along with Benjamin, Fairfield was able to hang onto the victory thanks to making 28 of its 34 free throws. Combining to make 17 of those shots from the foul stripe, senior guards Kyle Smith and Jeff Woods finished with 16 and 19 points, respectively.
“That had to be our best free-throw shooting performance all season,” Benjamin said. “We have just been focusing in practice, shooting many more free throws than we normally have. Especially this week because we knew we were going to get fouled.”
Meanwhile, Lakota West had three players score in double figures including junior Monty Boykins (18 points), sophomore Tyler Williams (14 points) and Barnes (13 points).
Another bright spot for the Firebirds was the play of sophomore Tyler Bowling. The 6-foot-7 center started his first game of the season and scored 8 points before fouling out in 13 minutes of playing time.
“To sum it up, the better team won the game” Lakota West head coach Sean Van Winkle said. “It is as simple as that. The team that played good team defense won the game. Hopefully, we can get to that point before the season is out.”
Fairfield 70, Lakota West 59
Fairfield (12-2, 6-2 in the GMC): Turner 2 3 7, Barlow 0 2 2, Fleming 1 0 2, Smith 5 4 16, Woods 3 13 19, Benjamin 7 6 24. Totals 18 28 70.
Lakota West (8-6, 5-3 in the GMC): Bowling 4 0 8, Martin 1 0 2, Blue 2 0 4, Barnes 5 1 13, Williams 5 2 14, Boykins 6 3 18. Totals 23 6 59.
Halftime score: 32-27 Fairfield. 3-pointers: F 6 (Smith 2, Benjamin 4); LW 7 (Barnes 2, Williams 2, Boykins 3)