Mater Dei basketball wins battle with Notre Dame to reach CIF Division I regional final

SANTA ANA – Mater Dei’s boys basketball team again got huge contributions from multiple players Saturday in a 79-71 win over Notre Dame in a CIF Southern California Regional Division I semifinal at Mater Dei High.

The Monarchs (29-5) will play at St. John Bosco (26-7) in the regional final on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks finished the season 31-4. The Knights won the CIF Southern Section Division 1 championship.

Mater Dei’s Brandon Benjamin, left, fights for possession against Notre Dame’s Mercy Miller, right, during the game between Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks vs. Mater Dei in the Division I regional semifinals in the CIF State basketball playoffs on Saturday March 2, 2024. (Photo by Michael Kitada, Contributing Photographer)

Mater Dei’s Brandon Benjamin looks for an opening to shoot during the game between Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks vs. Mater Dei in the Division I regional semifinals in the CIF State basketball playoffs on Saturday March 2, 2024. (Photo by Michael Kitada, Contributing Photographer)

Mater Dei’s Scotty Belnap slam dunks the ball during the first half of the game between Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks vs. Mater Dei in the Division I regional semifinals in the CIF State basketball playoffs on Saturday March 2, 2024. (Photo by Michael Kitada, Contributing Photographer)

Notre Dame’s Scotty Belnap, center, and Mater Dei’s Brady Karich, left, scramble for a rebound during the game between Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks vs. Mater Dei in the Division I regional semifinals in the CIF State basketball playoffs on Saturday March 2, 2024. (Photo by Michael Kitada, Contributing Photographer)

Mater Dei’s Brandon Benjamin goes up for a shot during the game between Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks vs. Mater Dei in the Division I regional semifinals in the CIF State basketball playoffs on Saturday March 2, 2024. (Photo by Michael Kitada, Contributing Photographer)

Mater Dei’s Blake Davidson, left, comes down with an offensive rebound during the game between Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks vs. Mater Dei in the Division I regional semifinals in the CIF State basketball playoffs on Saturday March 2, 2024. (Photo by Michael Kitada, Contributing Photographer)

The Notre Dame bench can only look on as the game ends in defeat. Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks vs. Mater Dei in the Division I regional semifinals in the CIF State basketball playoffs on Saturday March 2, 2024. (Photo by Michael Kitada, Contributing Photographer)

Mater Dei’s Scotty Belnap rejects a shot during the game between Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks vs. Mater Dei in the Division I regional semifinals in the CIF State basketball playoffs on Saturday March 2, 2024. (Photo by Michael Kitada, Contributing Photographer)

Mater Dei’s Scotty Belnap, left, celebrates the win over Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks in the Division I regional semifinals in the CIF State basketball playoffs on Saturday March 2, 2024. (Photo by Michael Kitada, Contributing Photographer)

Mater Dei’s head coach Gary McKnight watches his team win against Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks in the Division I regional semifinals in the CIF State basketball playoffs on Saturday March 2, 2024. (Photo by Michael Kitada, Contributing Photographer)

Mater Dei’s Blake Davidson, right, attempts a rebound as Notre Dame’s Angelino Mark, looks on during the game between Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks vs. Mater Dei in the Division I regional semifinals in the CIF State basketball playoffs on Saturday March 2, 2024. (Photo by Michael Kitada, Contributing Photographer)

Mater Dei’s Blake Davidson, left, shoots over Notre Dame’s Mercy Miller, right, during the game between Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks vs. Mater Dei in the Division I regional semifinals in the CIF State basketball playoffs on Saturday March 2, 2024. (Photo by Michael Kitada, Contributing Photographer)

Mater Dei’s Brandon Benjamin, center, looks for room to attempt a shot during the game between Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks vs. Mater Dei in the Division I regional semifinals in the CIF State basketball playoffs on Saturday March 2, 2024. (Photo by Michael Kitada, Contributing Photographer)

Notre Dame’s head coach Matt Sargeant gestures during the game between Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks vs. Mater Dei in the Division I regional semifinals in the CIF State basketball playoffs on Saturday March 2, 2024. (Photo by Michael Kitada, Contributing Photographer)

Notre Dame’s head coach Matt Sargeant disagrees with a call during the game between Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks vs. Mater Dei in the Division I regional semifinals in the CIF State basketball playoffs on Saturday March 2, 2024. (Photo by Michael Kitada, Contributing Photographer)

Notre Dame’s Mercy Miller, left, attempts a shot while Mater Dei’s Jordan Ballard defends during the game between Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks vs. Mater Dei in the Division I regional semifinals in the CIF State basketball playoffs on Saturday March 2, 2024. (Photo by Michael Kitada, Contributing Photographer)

Notre Dame’s Mercy Miller moves the ball up ccurt during the game between Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks vs. Mater Dei in the Division I regional semifinals in the CIF State basketball playoffs on Saturday March 2, 2024. (Photo by Michael Kitada, Contributing Photographer)

Notre Dame’s Angelino Mark, left, attempts a shot as Mater Dei’s, Orlando Castano, right, defends during the game between Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks vs. Mater Dei in the Division I regional semifinals in the CIF State basketball playoffs on Saturday March 2, 2024. (Photo by Michael Kitada, Contributing Photographer)

Notre Dame’s Angeliino Mark, center, makes a move towards the basket in the game between Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks vs. Mater Dei in the Division I regional semifinals in the CIF State basketball playoffs on Saturday March 2, 2024. (Photo by Michael Kitada, Contributing Photographer)

Mater Dei’s Luke Barnett, right, has his shot blocked by Notre Dame’s Angelino Mark, left, during the game between Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks vs. Mater Dei in the Division I regional semifinals in the CIF State basketball playoffs on Saturday March 2, 2024. (Photo by Michael Kitada, Contributing Photographer)

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Mater Dei 6-5 junior Brandon Benjamin had one of his better games in his first year with the team. Benjamin, the Orange County player of the year last season at Canyon, scored 23 points with nine rebounds and six assists. He has scored 52 points in Mater Dei’s three regional games.

Monarchs 6-4 sophomore guard Luke Barnett had another spectacular outside-shooting game. He made six 3-pointers, including two from 30 feet away from the basket, and finished with 21 points. Barnett has made 14 3s in the three regional games.

Mater Dei 6-9 junior forward Blake Davidson scored 13 points, including two 3-pointers, with 10 rebounds. Davidson has 30 rebounds in the three regional games.

Monarchs 6-2 senior point guard Brady Karich had five assists Saturday to give him 27 assists in the regional playoffs.

Postgame with Mater Dei junior Brandon Benjamin who scored 23 points with 9 rebounds and 6 assists as MD beat Notre Dane/Sherman Oaks 77-71 in a CIF SoCal Regional D1 semifinal (MD at Bosco Tuesday) … pic.twitter.com/ZOsdZ8SMVR

— Steve Fryer (@SteveFryer) March 3, 2024

Notre Dame 6-4 senior guard Mercy Miller scored 29 points. He had 13 points in the first quarter and 17 at halftime, scoring on 3s and drives and mid-range jumpers while asserting himself as the best player on the court.

Miller, who has signed with the University of Houston, slowed down in the second half, limped through the fourth quarter and made only 3 of his 10 second-half shots.

Junior point guard Angelino Mark scored 26 points for the Knights, including 19 in the second half.

Miller and Mark scored 55 of Notre Dame’s 71 points.

Mater Dei went 0-3 in the CIF-SS Open Division pool-play playoffs. The Monarchs likely missed Brannon Martinsen, a 6-8 sophomore forward who was their leading scorer and rebounder when he broke a tibia in Mater Dei’s second league game against St. John Bosco.

Benjamin has filled the void, especially in the regional playoffs.

“Brannon’s a big guy for us,” Benjamin said. “He gets points, he gets rebounds, he makes the rest of us look good. I knew I had to step up and make up for that deficit.”

The first quarter was a great one for both teams. The high level of skill was evident as Notre Dame made 9 of its 12 shots and Mater Dei was 8 of 14, and the Monarchs took a 27-24 lead into the second quarter.

The Monarchs had a rough second quarter, making only 3 of 8 shots while committing four turnovers, and Notre Dame had a 36-34 lead at halftime.

Then Barnett and Benjamin got going in the third quarter. Barnett made three 3-pointers and Benjamin knifed his way up and through Notre Dame defenders for three tough baskets, and the Monarchs brought a 57-52 lead into the fourth quarter.

Barnett successfully hoisted two 3s in the final quarter and Benjamin continued his inside scoring for 11 fourth-quarter points to lead Mater Dei to the win.

Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight liked what he saw from Benjamin and the other Monarchs.

“He’s a very tough competitor and finisher,” McKnight said. “And Luke got hot. And Davidson again, 13 points and 10 rebounds.”

The Mater Dei-St. John Bosco winner will advance to the CIF State championship game Friday, March 8, at Sacremento’s Golden 1 Center.

Mater Dei defeated St. John Bosco in their two Trinity League games on the way to winning the league championship.

Mater Dei beat St. John Bosco 83-62 at Crypto.com Arena on Jan. 6 and 72-66 at Mater Dei on Jan. 30.

It will be Mater Dei’s 26th regional final in McKnight’s 42 seasons as the team’s coach. A Mater Dei win would be its 17th CIF Southern California Regional title.

McKnight was asked about playing St. John Bosco a third time.

“We’ll have a different lineup than the last two times,” said McKnight, meaning the Monarchs had Martinsen in the starting five those two times. “We’ll just have to piece it together the best we can.”

Those pieces have come together just fine for Mater Dei in these Regional playoffs so far.

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