Bender scored a career-high 32 points — 24 in the first half — as Elyria defeated Medina 75-71 in the Play4Cancer Shootout at Massillon Jackson High.
The game was a rematch of last season’s Division I regional semifinal which the Bees won 46-41 in overtime, a fact that wasn’t lost on Bender and his teammates.
“Yeah we have been talking about that for a while, that this is a revenge game,” said Bender, a 6-foot senior guard. “We just wanted to come out and get physical on them and get revenge on them for knocking us out.”
Bender and junior guard Isaiah Walton accounted for 39 of Elyria’s 44 first-half points. Walton added 19.
“It feels really good to come in here today and beat Medina after what happened last year,” Walton said. “We came out really strong, really focused on the scouting report … we knew what we wanted to do.”
The Pioneers (4-0) took a 24-12 lead by the end of the first quarter, extending the margin to as much as 13 late in the second quarter before going into the locker room with a 44-33 lead.
If Elyria’s defensive pressure and swarming defense didn’t cause the Bees (1-3) enough trouble, Medina also found itself in serious foul trouble with five different players picking up two fouls in the first 9:25 of the game.
Medina was also feeling the effects of playing its second game in less than 24 hours. The Bees lost to Garfield Heights 65-58 at home Friday.
“I thought we came out flat today,” Medina coach Anthony Stacey said. “We didn’t have much energy early on and we lost the game in the first four minutes when they scored 18 points. We made a good comeback, but it’s tough to climb that mountain once you get down by 15.”
When Bender and Walton slowed down in the second half, senior guard Da’Juan Glover took over, nailing a pair of 3-pointers early in the third quarter.
Medina began to rally late in the third, going on a 14-2 run that brought the Bees to within 61-55 with 6:17 to play.
Billy Geschke led the Bees with 19 points, while Brandon Wilkins — a 6-5 junior — had 16 points and 16 rebounds.
As if combining to score 51 of their points wasn’t enough, Walton and Bender also led the Pioneers with nine rebounds each.
Medina pulled within 74-71 with 22.9 seconds to play and got the ball back with a chance to tie the game, but a double dribble call gave the ball back to Elyria and Walton made a free throw to close out the win.
“We came out sluggish on Thursday so this morning we talked about how we wanted to come out and run and put pressure on them early on,” Elyria coach Brett Larrick said. “We wanted to attack pressure and make them pay for pressuring us and Isaiah and Kody were able to come through and hit their shots.
“In the second half the game turned into a battle of attrition. That’s where mental toughness kicks in and I was very proud of the way my kids finished the game. You’re not going to keep a team like Medina down by 15 points but when they made their runs we always answered back and made our free throws down the stretch.”
Elyria shot 71 percent from the foul line. Bender was 13-of-14 from the line, making his first nine free throws.