By Phil Anastasia
His own coach wanted him to take the shot and the opposing coach wanted him to take it, too.
His teammates had confidence in him, and Jared Bennett was sure he could make it.
"It felt so smooth when it left my hand," said Bennett, a Winslow Township senior. "It was almost serene."
Bennett's three-pointer from the left corner with 0:15 on the clock was the difference in Winslow Township's 51-50 victory over Cherokee in a pulse-pounding clash of Top 10 teams in Friday night's season opener for both teams.
Bennett's shot completed Winslow Township's furious comeback from a five-point deficit in the final one minute, 21 seconds and also made his nickname seem prophetic.
"I knew it was a 'swish,'" Winslow Township star senior guard Mike Cubbage said of Bennett's only three-point attempt of the game. "That's his nickname -- 'Trey-ball, corner pocket.'"
The 6-foot-3 Cubbage led all scorers with 26 for Winslow Township (1-0), the No. 5 team in The Inquirer preseason Top 25.
Cubbage also collected six rebounds and six assists and forced Cherokee into a box-and-one defense in the fourth quarter.
"He's a Division 1 guard," Cherokee coach Eric Cassidy said of Cubbage.
Senior forward Grant Gibson scored 17 and senior guard Zach Rowe added 12 with four assists for No. 6 Cherokee (0-1).
The Chiefs took a 49-44 lead on Gibson's jumper off a feed from Rowe but missed some key free throws down the stretch.
"It's a learning experience," Cassidy said after his first game as Cherokee's coach after six seasons at Schalick. "We're in a hostile environment, playing a good team, up five, we have to close out games.
"We'll learn from this and move on."
Cubbage scored 11 in the fourth quarter, ralling Winslow from a 40-35 deficit.
"He just controls the game," Winslow Township coach Norm Ingram said of Cubbage. "He's hungry. He's got the fire."
Cubbage made a step-back '3' and hit a runner to tie the score at 40-40.
But Cherokee senior guard Tyler Tobin hit a '3' and a pair of free throws to push the Chiefs' edge back to 45-40.
After Gibson's jumper made it 49-44, Winslow Township got an inside hoop from senior forward Elijah Campbell (11 points, five boards) and a driving layup from Cubbage to pull within 49-48 with 0:36 on the clock.
Rowe made one free throw at 0:32 to give Cherokee a 50-48 lead.
Ingram called timeout and told Bennett and junior Sidney Brown to set up shop in opposite corners.
"I had confidence in both of those guys," Ingram said.
Cherokee double-teammed Cubbage, hoping to force another Winslow player to take the decisive shot.
"That's what we wanted, not to have Cubbage beat us," Cassidy said. "That kid who made that shot, that's what we wanted. Give him credit. He made a big shot."
After a scramble, the ball went to Bennett in the left corner. He never hesitated.
"I did what I was coached to do," Bennett said. "It's indescribable. I knew it was good as soon as it left my hand."
Cherokee 11 14 15 10 -- 50
Winslow Twp. 13 11 11 16 -- 51
C: Tyler Tobin 11, Kevin Brown 5, Zach Rowe 12, Grant Gibson 17, Jaden Bell 2, Tyler Ludwikowski 3.
W: Mike Cubbage 26, Elijah Campbell 11, Tyrae Taylor 5, Manny Lowe 2, Sidney Brown 2, Jared Bennett 5.
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