Benson tip-in lifts Red River boys over Mandan at state

BISMARCK — Grand Forks Red River had to grind out an overtime win over West Fargo Sheyenne just to get a spot in the North Dakota Class A boys state basketball tournament.

Cole Benson made sure to get the Roughriders out of Thursday’s state opener a little quicker.

Benson got inside position and tipped in a Brett Klefstad miss with under five seconds to play, and the East Region third-seeded Roughriders escaped with a 56-54 upset of West Region No. 2 seed Mandan in the opening round at the Bismarck Event Center.

Benson’s previous trip to the rim was less successful when had a wide-open layup roll off the rim late in the second half. Luckily, Bryce Enerson was there to put back his miss, giving Red River a 54-48 lead.

The Braves didn’t go away quietly. After cutting the lead to five on a free throw, a Keshawn LaFramboise 3-pointer and Kobe Poitra layup tied the game with under a minute to play.

The Braves had a chance to take the lead, but after getting a stop, Red River took advantage of an opportunity to end the game in regulation. After Klefstad’s shot was redirected, Benson found himself all alone for the easy putback, which sealed Red River’s spot in the state semifinals.

“Brett got a good shot up. It rolled off the rim and I just happened to be there to put it back in,” Benson said. “We all did our job and we got it done.”

Benson was part of a balanced scoring attack, which saw five players score between seven and 13 points. Will Obioha had a team-high 13 points and seven rebounds.

Mandan star center Elijah Klein finished with 25 points and 14 rebounds. He accounted for 10 of the Braves’ 18 made field goals.

Though excited to reach the state semifinals for the first time in three years, Roughrider players knew they had to move past the excitement of Thursday’s win in short order.

“Let’s go win the semifinals,” Obioha said. “We had a good game. Let’s focus on the next one.”

The next one brings another big challenge in Fargo Davies. The Eagles were 3-0 against Red River this season, with two of those wins by 20 points or more.

“We’ve definitely got to step up,” Benson said. “They’ve got a couple key players who know how to put the ball in the basket. If we play defense, offense will come and hopefully we’ll come out on top.”