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Top-ranked Benet’s Sam Driscoll knows any team ‘can beat us.’ The senior generates a spark to prevent that. – Chicago Tribune

Benet senior guard Sam Driscoll has spent much of this season sharing a starting spot with senior Andy Nash and junior Patrick Walsh.

If the 6-foot-2 Driscoll doesn’t start, then he’s usually the first or second player off the bench. But no matter whether he plays 25 minutes a game or just five, his approach stays the same.

“I just try to go out there and play to the best of my abilities,” Driscoll said. “That’s really it.”

That mindset has enabled Driscoll to contribute in a variety of ways.

“His role is whatever we need it to be,” Benet coach Gene Heidkamp said. “That’s the beauty of it. Some games he’ll start. Some games he comes off the bench. But he always brings a lot of energy when he plays.”

That was the case Tuesday. Driscoll was the first player off the bench and contributed eight points, including two 3-pointers, as the Redwings continued their march to the East Suburban Catholic Conference championship with a 53-36 victory against Notre Dame in Lisle.

Senior guards Brayden Fagbemi and Niko Abusara combined to score the game’s first eight points for Benet (24-1, 12-0), but Notre Dame (12-13, 6-7) pulled within 12-8. That’s when Driscoll took a pass from Fagbemi and swished a 3-pointer with 39 seconds left in the first quarter.

Driscoll also scored the first basket of the second quarter, a baseline drive that made it 17-8.

“He brought the energy,” Abusara said. “We really needed it tonight against Notre Dame. His role on the team is just being out there playing defense, hitting shots and being a great teammate overall.”

Driscoll’s efforts helped take some of the pressure off Benet’s Big Three of Fagbemi, Abusara and senior forward Brady Kunka. Fagbemi and Abusara were again extremely efficient as each scored 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting, while Kunka added five points, a game-high seven rebounds and three assists.

Driscoll made 3 of 6 shots. His last attempt was a successful 3-pointer, again off a Fagbemi feed, which was part of a 9-0 run to start the second half. That gave Benet a 38-19 cushion.

“It was just good,” Driscoll said. “All of my teammates set me up, and I just came in there, knocked down shots, tried to play defense, get a little energy. That’s kind of my role on the team, and I’m embracing that.”

That attitude is key for a team with a 20-player roster. While everyone got playing time Tuesday, less than 10 get regular minutes in any given game.

Benet's Sam Driscoll (1) goes for a layup against Notre Dame's Anthony Fornelli during a game in Lisle on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023.

Being a jack-of-all-trades helps Driscoll stand out.

“He always adds a lot to the team,” Heidkamp said. “Today, we needed his energy. We were a little bit flat, and he came out and provided a nice spark.

“He does a little bit of everything. He can shoot it, he has a lot of toughness, he can slash. He helps in all facets of the game.”

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The Redwings have won seven straight and are ranked No. 1 in the Class 4A poll by The Associated Press.

“It’s awesome being a part of it, but we don’t really care about the rankings,” Driscoll said. “We don’t really focus on that. We just try to play our game. That’s working out pretty well for us right now.”

That doesn’t guarantee anything.

“We’re different than a lot of teams that maybe are getting a lot of publicity right now,” Heidkamp said. “If you look at us, we’re not going to physically overwhelm any team, so we have to play at a high level every time we step on the floor.”

That takes a lot of energy, which Driscoll has, and an ability to stay on an even keel, which the Redwings have done so far.

“We take it one game at a time, and we respect everyone we play,” Driscoll said. “We know that anyone we play can beat us. But if we play how we’re capable of, we can beat anyone.”

Matt Le Cren is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.

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