WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — At 6-foot-8 with a frame worthy of his Division I football scholarship in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Jake Benzinger can draw a crowd in the post.
When he draws a bead on one of his teammates, the Mount Greylock boys basketball team is tough to beat.
Benzinger's passing out of the paint in the second half was a big key to the Mounties' 53-50, come-from-behind victory over Monument Mountain on Tuesday night.
Eric Hirsch hit three second-half 3-pointers on the way to a team-high 15 points as the Mounties (12-8) secured sole possession of second-place in the Berkshire County South and dropped the Spartans (7-11) out of tournament contention.
"In the first half, part of it was our shots weren't going, but part of it was we were not moving the ball enough," Hirsch said. "We were going one pass and forcing it. Second half, we said we had to get more touches on offense — in and out, in and out."
Mount Greylock assistant coach Brian Flagg agreed.
"We talked about it at half-time: If we just worked the ball in, they were collapsing down on Benzinger, and with our good shooters outside, every time we got it in to Jake, he was doing a real good job of turning it around and kicking it back out to the shooters," said Flagg, who did the postgame honors for head coach Bob Thistle, who was battling a cold and let his assistants do most of the talking in huddles all night
Branden Perry scored a game-high 16 for Monument Mountain, which jumped out to an early nine-point lead and led by eight, 22-14, with just more than three minutes left in the first half.
The Mounties started their comeback with a triple by Emmett Shepard (13 points) and got within three at half-time after Benzinger was fouled in the post and hit both shots in the final minute of the second quarter.
Mount Greylock came out and established its perimeter game to start the second half, getting 3s from Hirsch and Ian Brink on back-to-back trips to take its first lead since 2-0 with 5 minutes, 38 seconds left in the third.
From there, the teams traded blows for the next 13 minutes with neither side going ahead by more than five points.
After Shepard hit a 3 with 13 seconds left in the third to make it 39-38, it stayed a one-possession game most of the fourth quarter.
The Mounties got a little breathing room when Benzinger converted a conventional three-point play with 2:50 on the clock to make it 51-47.
But Monument came back with a Juri Kiin free throw to get within three points and a pair at the line from Rowan Myers to make it 51-50 with 21.9 seconds left.
After three straight Monument fouls to get the Mounties into the bonus, Hirsch drained both ends of a one-and-one to make it a three-point game with 18.7 seconds left.
The Spartans came out of a timeout and ran their offense to get an open look in the left-wing corner, but the shot rimmed out. Monument got some life when the ball went out of bounds off Mount Greylock with 2.3 on the clock, and after a Mounties timeout, the Spartans got another shot from the right side, but it fell off the side of the rim, touching off a celebration for the home team.
The visitors were bitterly disappointed after coming within a possession of extending their season — at least into overtime and possibly next week — after starting the year 1-7.
"I commend them for being resilient and having the resolve to compete," Monument coach Mike Saporito said. "It hasn't been an easy year for us. We dug ourselves the biggest hole I've seen in all my years of coaching and being involved with sports at all the different ages.
"I'm proud of the way they were able to not play the blame game, not get down on each other, down on the system and the coaches. And ultimately, we battled back and made this exciting, at least, for Berkshire County's fans."