Benson's Samarah Massey moves toward the basket against Nelson's Tatiana Harris on Saturday. (Photo by Jon Olson)
Benson's Samarah Massey moves toward the basket against Nelson's Tatiana Harris on Saturday. (Photo by Jon Olson)

PORTLAND – If the Benson Techsters are to make a run in the 6A girls basketball tournament next week, they know that their physical, smothering defense will be their calling card.

On Saturday at the Marshall Campus, the sixth-seeded Techsters offered a sneak preview of what opponents can expect when they locked down No. 11 Nelson in a 62-34 win that secured their berth in the eight-team tournament at the Chiles Center.

Benson (21-4) held the Hawks (22-4) scoreless for more than nine minutes during a 23-0 run that opened a 52-22 lead late in the third quarter. Nelson not only had difficulty getting up a shot, but simply working the ball up the court.

“That's what we're all about,” Techsters sophomore forward Samarah Massey said. “Other teams don't play as aggressive as us, and I feel like we get punished for that sometimes. But we're not going to stop the way we play.”

Added senior post Mahogany Chandler-Roberts: “We're Benson. That's what Benson is known for is great defense. We're going to get in you. Defense wins championships, offense wins games. I feel like once we apply our defensive principles into the game, every time, we're good.”

Chandler-Roberts scored 17 points – 13 in the second half – to lead the Techsters. Senior guard Eboni Clay made four three-pointers and scored 15 points and senior guard Mauriana Hashemian-Orr hit three three-pointers and added 13 points for Benson, which extended its winning streak to 15.

After missing the state tournament last year because of a four-point loss at Barlow in the round of 16, the Techsters have full appreciation for getting back to the Chiles Center. They will play No. 14 Grants Pass in a quarterfinal March 7.

“You can never take getting there for granted,” said coach Eric Knox, who guided Benson to the 2019 state title. “It's much harder than people think it is. Every team, when you get to the final 16, is good.

“We played a really tough, athletic team. Nelson reminds me of a young us. They've got athletes, and they're young, and they're quick. But they're young.”

Nelson, bidding for its first state-tournament berth, played without its leading scorer and rebounder in 6-foot-1 freshman Love Forde, who injured her knee in practice Friday and is expected to be sidelined for about two weeks. Without Forde, the Hawks struggled to find a go-to scorer against a Benson defense that jumped all over them from the start.

“With the injury she had, it was smart of her not to play,” Hawks sophomore Lainey Day said of Forde, who averages 13 points and 14 rebounds per game. “We need her. She's got a future. Of course we miss her presence, her big body. But she was there every step of the way, cheering us, talking to us.”

Massey had three baskets as Benson opened a 13-2 lead and never looked back. The Hawks drew within 22-18 in the second quarter, but the Techsters got a three-pointer from Clay and back-to-back triples from Hashemian-Orr on their way to a 36-22 lead at half.

After halftime, Benson began working the ball inside to the 6-2 Chandler-Roberts, who scored 11 points in the third quarter.

“Mahogany took over. That was it,” Knox said. “Sometimes they just don't see her quick enough. Once she started getting touches, we were off to the races.”

The Techsters held Nelson scoreless in the third quarter until junior Paige Hunt converted a layup with 25 seconds left.

“We are fast, we are physical, and that is a staple of who we are,” Knox said of his team's defense. “That is our identity at Benson. Once they hunkered down, they got some of the first-half jitters out of the way and just got back to team defense. I think we frustrated Nelson.”

Benson last made the state tournament in 2022, losing to South Medford in the quarterfinals. It was a particularly bitter defeat for the Techsters considering Chandler-Roberts injured her ankle in practice leading up to the tournament and was unable to play.

Chandler-Roberts, who has signed with Central Florida, is eager to make her time at the Chiles Center count.

“This is such a memorable moment for me,” she said. “I just want to give it my all. I'm just waiting for that moment. And now it my time to just claim everything.”

Chandler-Roberts admits that she has been “very aware and very cautious” to avoid injury leading up to the tournament.

“I want to be there with my team and just win it all,” she said. “This is my time, our time, this whole team's time, to claim it.”

The Techsters are surging with confidence.

“There's nobody in our way but us,” Massey said. “If we don't let ourselves get in our own way, we win the whole thing.”

Senior guard Ella Shackleton and Day scored nine and seven points, respectively, to lead Nelson.