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It is the nature of great basketball players to crave instant gratification. Sean O’Mara knew playing against St. Ignatius meant an unorthodox approach. “My teammates know how to get me the ball,” the 6-9 junior Benet star center said.
O’Mara scored 14 of his team-high 17 points in the second half as the No. 6 Redwings pinned the first loss on the No. 15 Wolfpack with a 44-31 win in the Catholic League/East Suburban Conference Challenge at Loyola Saturday in Wilmette.
Senior Benet guard Eddie Eshoo drilled four three-pointers in scoring 14 points to complement O’Mara’s inside presence.
St. Ignatius coach Rich Kehoe acknowledged immediately the task the Wolfpack encountered with Benet. “We’re playing without a power forward or a center,” he said. “We have been spoiled the last couple of years, with Nnanna [Illinois center Egwu] and a 6-10 guy last year. Against, Benet you pick your poison and we did twice and they burned us.”
Both teams had to contend with fatigue, with Benet playing its fifth game in five days and St. Ignatius coming off back-to-back overtime games.
In the deliberated-paced game, Eshoo hit two three-pointers that staked the Redwings (10-2) to a 16-11 lead at the break. After having limited touches in the first half, O’Mara dominated the third quarter, scoring all 12 of the Redwings’ points during the frame.
“They changed their defense a little in the second half, like pressuring our guards more and that opened some space for me on the inside,” O’Mara said. He sparked a 10-2 run, at one point matching the Wolfpack’s scoring output (13 points) as the Benet lead swelled to 13 points.
O’Mara had no preseason training because of Benet’s Class 7A state football semifinal appearance, and he is looking more and more comfortable. “I think offensively, my rhythm is getting better every game. I have to make improvements defensively, like not let my guy get around me like I did a couple of times today.”
With Wolfpack leading scorer Larry Lester playing limited minutes because of illness, senior forward Connor Cronin stepped into the void. He scored 18 points for the Wolfpack (7-1), including a stretch, like O’Mara, of scoring his team’s entire third quarter output (eight points).
The defining sequence occurred with five minutes to go. Cronin’s three-point attempt lipped out and Eshoo drilled a three-pointer from the left baseline for a 10-point Redwings’ lead. He followed with another three-pointer two minutes later as he scored eight in the final quarter.
“I have great teammates, we move the ball well and I was open and I was stepped up and hit the shots,” Eshoo said.
Sophomore forward Brandon Snower added 10 points for the Wolfpack.