Some lights in the Williamsport gym were not turned on until midway through the first quarter Tuesday night. Maleak Benjamin did not care. The way he was shooting, he would have drained 3-pointers in the dark.
Benjamin already had 11 points when the lights came on. And Benjamin basically turned the lights out on State College with his early scoring barrage.
Benjamin scored 15 of his career-high 21 points in the first quarter, hitting four 3-pointers during that stretch as Williamsport cruised from there and routed State College, 65-41. Benjamin opened things up for all the Millionaires (9-10) as starters and reserves played well in one of the team's most complete performances this season.
Alex McCann of State College (3) leaps over Williamsport’s Maleak Benjamin Tuesday night at Williamsport High School. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com.
"I got the shots and I was knocking them down," Benjamin said. "I knew they were going to be focusing on Isaiah (Washington) so I knew I had to get open. I just kept shooting it the same way and they kept finding the bottom of the net."
Benjamin scored Williamsport's first 15 points and had Williamsport up 15-5 six minutes into the game. He made three straight 3-pointers at one point, swished three of the four he connected on and added two steals as the Millionaires opened a big lead that State College never threatened.
The junior guard injured his ankle a few weeks ago and missed four games. Last night was his fourth game back and it's safe to say Benjamin is fully healed. He also is quite a difference maker who can take pressure off Penn State-bound Washington while opening up the inside. He did both last night and Williamsport flourished.
"Maleak came out and shot lights out to start it off and stretch the zone out," Williamsport coach Allen Taylor said. "When the defense wants to come out and shade toward (Washington) and leave guys open Maleak can definitely stretch the floor. I'm hoping Nyric (Gosley) will be that third weapon because at some point teams will try and deny both Maleak and Isaiah and that will give him more opportunities to create for himself and Tyler (Gardner) and Jed (Chestnut) and any other players we have out there."
Washington scored 14 points but did not have to worry about carrying the load as he has had to do so often this season. Williamsport is jelling around its only returning starter and Benjamin's early eruption made life easier on everyone. Jed Chestnut and Tyler Gardner played tough inside, combining for 17 points and 11 rebounds while Jamir Smith came off the bench to score four points off putbacks in the second quarter as Williamsport took a 32-20 halftime lead.
"They were getting a lot of offensive rebounds," Benjamin said. "They were the main reason why I was getting my open shots because they were playing strong and kicking it out to me."
Chestnut played his best game. The junior was not receiving much playing time early, but injuries opened the door and he has come on strong, scoring 11 points and grabbing seven rebounds last night. He showed some nice post moves and also made two steals while playing solid interior defense.
Chestnut is a high-energy player who sparks Williamsport with his hustle. He is only 6-foot-3 and almost always is giving up size but he surrenders nothing else. He and Gardner helped the Millionaires control the glass and deny second-chance opportunities while stifling State College comeback hopes.
"I like to step up. I got my chance and came through as best I could," Chestnut said. "I always like going up against the big kids. Coach says they're always going to be bigger but I look forward to it."
Benjamin and Chestnut clinched the win early in the fourth quarter, scoring eight straight points during an 8-0 run. Benjamin finished with four steals and his third put led to a layup while his last one came seconds later. He then fed Chestnut for a three-point play before Gardner fed Chestnut for another 3-point play that made it 57-32 with 4:30 remaining.
Williamsport was active all night and moved the ball well while creating good shot opportunities. Gosley had three first-half assists and the Millionaires made 52 percent of their shots.
"I'm getting to the know the offense a lot better and getting to know my teammates and they're starting to know me better and we're starting to find each other a lot more," Chestnut said. "We're sharing the ball. Coach talks about us trying to peak at the right time and I think we're starting to peak with playoffs coming up."
Williamsport hosts Altoona Thursday before meeting Loyalsock Saturday at Lycoming College. Wins there would bolster its shot at earning District 2-4 Class AAAA's second seed. Earning that would give Williamsport a bye into the semifinals as it seeks is third straight championship.
"Guys were unselfish and I was pleased with the overall effort so now we're just looking for a consistent effort," Taylor said. "I don't want us to come out Thursday and give a lackluster effort."
STATE COLLEGE (41)
Michael Beattie 6 0-1 12, Lucas Cooper 1 1-4 3, Bryce Williams 1 0-0 2, Alex McCann 2 1-2 5, Tyler Hall 0 0-0 0, Louie Koudela 6 0-2 12, Cody Kubicki 1 0-0 2, Patrick Irwin 0 0-0 0, Michael Caswell 1 0-0 2, Tyler Snyder 0 1-2 1, Tyler Smith 1 0-0 2. Totals 10 3-11 41.
Isaiah Washington 4 4-5 14, Maleak Benjamin 7 3-4 21, Nyric Gosley 0 0-0 0, Tyler Gardner 3 0-0 6, Jed Chestnut 5 1-1 11, Shakurr Simmons 0 0-0 0, Greg Johnson 0 0-0 0, Jamir Smith 2 0-0 4, Stanley Scott 0 1-2 1, Malik Washington 0 0-0 0, Jerah Reeves 1 0-0 2, Nick Manzitti 2 0-0 4, Isaiah Hankins 1 1-1 3. Totals 25 10-13 65.
State College9 11 10 11-41
Williamsport17 15 17 16-65
3-pointers: Williamsport 5 (Benjamin 4, I. Washington).
JV Score: Williamsport 69-65. High Scorer: Reeves, W, 24; Aspray, S, 17
Records: Williamsport 9-10. State College 1-19.