FAIRBORN — As the final seconds ticked down for the victorious Raiders in the Horizon League Championship game last week against Cleveland State, senior guard Trey Stacey knew what to do with the ball. He gave it a hefty toss, which had been planned two years prior when WSU lost on the same floor in the HL finals against Green Bay.
“I forgot about it. In the heat of the game for Trey to remember to do that is incredible,” fellow senior guard Grant Benzinger said. “He put that ball up so high I thought he was going to break the scoreboard.”
For Benzinger winning the HL crown was a triumphant coronation after a storied four-year career for WSU that saw him overcome the adversity of a 12-19 freshman campaign and updates to the roster and coaching staff.
“It was surreal. There were two minutes left, and we knew we were going to do it. Coach (Scott Nagy) checked me out to hug everybody,” Benzinger said. “It was an amazing feeling to see my family in the stands. I couldn’t of asked for a better moment.”
“When you stay up at night you think about those moments and winning a championship game. Everything you dreamed of is actually there now. You just want to embrace and cherish it. I wish it could have lasted longer.”
This shining moment for the Raiders wouldn’t have been complete without Benzinger’s whatever it takes mentality. Over the course of the game he hit the floor and sprinted off the court several times.
“Me and Lou (center Loudon Love) roomed together for the trip and kept talking about win or lose, leave it all out on the floor,” Benzinger said. “I took out another cameraman, but we got the steal and I think we scored on that play.”
Another moment of significance came in the handshake line as Ryan Custer, who sustained a spinal cord injury in an off-campus accident last April, went through in his wheelchair and was then embraced by his teammates. This would become a scene that aired through Wednesday on Sportscenter.
“I’m incredibly thankful that he (Custer) was there. We love him, and it was nice for him to be there because it was like he was back on the team again,” Benzinger said. “We miss him as a player, but also hanging out and being in the locker room all the time.”
Following the game, Benzinger was interviewed for the ESPN broadcast and asked about being named MVP of the HL championship. He selflessly replied that Love was more deserving of the honor.
“I played pretty well, but I think for the whole weekend Lou deserved it. He has been incredible this year,” Benzinger said. “Usually how he goes we go. I’m the leading scorer, but he is the real MVP on this team and all the other young guys playing like upperclassmen.”
The Raiders will find out Sunday who their first round NCAA tournament opponent will be later next week. Benzinger is ready to prepare for that team, but what transpired on Tuesday will always stand out in his mind.
“When we got to the tournament on our scouting report I wrote, ‘It’s your destiny,’” Benzinger said.
“I couldn’t imagine not going. Even if we didn’t, it doesn’t define me as a man if I went or not. It’s something I’ll hold for the rest of my life.”
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