Benet’s Andy Nash caught the long pass from Brayden Fagbemi in the right corner.
Teammate Niko Abusara knew what was coming next. He put his arm up in celebration before Nash even released the wide-open 3-pointer.
“Andy is a difference-maker on our team,” Abusara said. “He hits shots, he rebounds, he defends.
“Having him on the court is an amazing advantage. I have confidence in him.”
Nash justified that confidence, sinking that fourth-quarter shot that proved to be the decisive blow in the Redwings’ 67-53 victory at home against top-ranked Kenwood in the marquee matchup of the When Sides Collide shootout on Saturday night.
“It was a great feeling,” Nash said. “I knew it was going in right after I let it go.”
Nash’s 3-pointer, which gave Benet (22-1) a 54-41 cushion and led Kenwood (16-5) to call timeout with 5:47 left in the fourth quarter, prompted the massive crowd — which had fans crammed into the stands and behind both baselines — to go off.
It was the second 3-pointer of the game for the senior guard. He had missed his previous four attempts, but that didn’t faze him.
“All I do is shoot,” Nash said. “If I miss six or seven in a game, I’m pulling the next one. My teammates have got confidence in me to make my shots all the time.”
But that’s not all the 6-foot-4 Nash does. The Carthage recruit played a key role on defense for the Redwings, who are ranked No. 3 in Class 4A in the poll by The Associated Press. They were at a significant height disadvantage against No. 1 Kenwood’s 6-11 Jaden Smith, 6-7 Solomon Mosley and 6-6 Chris Riddle.
Benet senior forward Brady Kunka, who scored a game-high 26 points, including five 3-pointers, was grateful for the help.
“He definitely helped us on the defensive end,” Kunka said of Nash. “He’s athletic, and he can hit shots. He did that down the stretch. He helps our team a lot.”
Nash does so despite playing in the shadow of Kunka and senior guards Fagbemi and Abusara. The Dartmouth-bound Abusara had 12 points, including two concussive slams, and eight rebounds. Fagbemi, a Johns Hopkins recruit, had 15 points and eight assists.
That makes Nash’s eight points and two rebounds seem insignificant by comparison, but it’s not.
“He can make shots,” Benet coach Gene Heidkamp said. “He’s one of the best shooters on the team. So we’re not surprised with Andy’s performance. We knew what he was capable of, and he stepped up and executed.”
Nash was happy to do so.
“Obviously, we have three amazing players on the court, some of the best players I’ve played with,” Nash said. “So I’m comfortable with my role.
“I’m sure everyone else is doing what they can to help the team. Obviously, it seems to be working. Whatever it takes to win, we’ll do.”
Nash isn’t kidding. As the Broncos’ frustration grew, they got more physical. Nash was knocked to the floor by an intentional foul with 2:02 remaining. He got up and sank both free throws for a 61-48 lead.
“I was super nervous,” Nash said. “I’m not going to lie, but I have a lot of confidence in myself. My teammates have a lot of confidence in me, so that really helps when it comes down to it.”
Kunka said Nash’s free throws demonstrated his grit.
“That’s huge,” Kunka said. “I knew he was going to make those two. As soon as he went to the line, I’m like, ‘Just make these, let’s finish this out and celebrate as a team.’”
Two minutes later, the Redwings did just that, with Nash dribbling out the final seconds. The game that Kunka called “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” will go down as one of the most memorable home games in program history.
“It was a great environment, just insane,” Nash said. “The student section was really energetic, and we’ve got a lot of people pulling for us, massive support from our community.
“I’m never going to forget this.”
Matt Le Cren is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.