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Friday, May 6, 2016

Owls knock off No. 1 seed Wellington

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Senior Ben Valencia hit five three-pointers and played sticky defense as the Owls defeated Wellington to advance to the tournament finals.
(Chris Allen/Democrat-News)
WELLINGTON -- Among unlikely heroes, Marshall senior Ben Valencia ranks highly.

Valencia had a career-high 17 points and held the top-seeded host's best player in check on the defensive end Wednesday to give the Owls a 57-48 semifinal victory and a chance to claim a second straight Wellington-Napoleon Tournament title.

"We've had somebody different step up every single night," remarked MHS head coach Jason Varner. "That's really good to have on a team."

A year ago, all-NCMC guard Alex Maupin -- whose pre-holiday injury put Valencia back into the starting line-up -- also scored 17 points to lead Marshall to the championship with a come-from-behind 55-49 decision over the Tigers.

No late-game drama was needed this time around, the Owls leading from wire to wire -- except for a 17-second tie late in the second quarter -- and maintaining a three-possession lead on Wellington down the stretch.

The contest opened with a 10-2 Marshall run as Valencia and sophomore Conner Cooley struck from outside and sophomore Logan Harris and junior Zach Glassmaker converted second-chance buckets. The Owls controlled the boards against their taller opponent during the contest by a 43-31 margin, including a 14-8 gap in offensive rebounds.

Marshall led by as many as nine points during the first half before the Tigers made a late 10-3 run to tie it on senior Christian Bryant's baseline jumper with 55 seconds remaining.

Cooley answered from outside, but Bryant posted up down low for what would be his sixth and final field goal of the game to keep Wellington to within one point at intermission.

Although Bryant would reach the 1,000-point career scoring mark with a free throw, finishing with 17 points, he missed all four attempts from the floor during the second half as Valencia -- giving up nearly six inches -- denied him the ball.

"Ben's aggressive, very aggressive, and he's getting his confidence," Varner noted. "We needed him and he stepped up."

Senior Zach Bishop connected from downtown and Valencia buried two bombs as the Owls came out of the second-half gate with a 13-0 spree over a six-minute span.

"If we want to be successful, we've got to play good defense, and those kids understand that," Varner said. "They sell out on the defensive end, and that's great."

A three from sophomore Levi Banner got the Tigers to within seven points to begin the final frame, but a put-back by Harris -- who had six offensive rebounds among his game-high 14 -- and Valencia's fifth trey off of Harris' fourth assist had Marshall in front, 46-34, with 5:36 left.

"We'll get up, we'll get down. We're pretty experienced with keeping a lead and watching teams go on a run," Varner said. "We've done it a lot."

Wellington (10-5) got as close as eight points twice during the final three minutes, but Bishop's follow shot with 1:12 to go and a pair of free throws by both Harris and Cooley in the final minute sealed the win.

Cooley had 14 points and Bishop contributed nine points and eight boards off the bench for the fourth-seeded Owls (5-8), who take a three-game win streak into Saturday's finals against No. 2 Hardin-Central -- a 72-59 winner over Concordia.

"They're well-coached, they're disciplined," Varner assessed the Bulldogs. "We're going to have to come out and play a very good game like we did tonight to win Saturday."

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