Omaha Central girls basketball coach Tom Lee said he's been waiting for sophomore guard Megan Gamble to step up this season.
In the District A-7 final Saturday against Omaha Benson, she did exactly that.
Gamble rattled home a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left to boost the Eagles to a 44-42 home win over the Bunnies. The victory returns 19-5 Central, the defending Class A champion, to the state tournament that begins Thursday in Lincoln.
“I've been wanting her to shoot the ball more,” Lee said. “She hit a big shot at the right time.”
Benson (16-7) should be in line to receive the one Class A wild card when official tournament pairings are announced Sunday. The Bunnies needed Millard West to win its district final Saturday, and the Wildcats rallied for a 54-53 victory over visiting Kearney.
“We didn't talk about the wild card because we wanted to win this game,” Benson coach Jon Perone said. “We knew we had to perform at a high level to stay with them.”
The Bunnies scored just 13 first-half points and trailed by nine entering the third quarter, but an 8-0 run got them back in the game. They tied the game in the fourth quarter and then took a 36-34 lead with four minutes left on a jumper by Octavia McGraw.
Benson also led 38-36 and 40-39 before taking its final lead at 42-41 with 50 seconds left after a layup by McGraw. The Eagles then worked the clock down to 27 seconds before calling a timeout.
Central inbounded the ball and worked it around for the go-ahead shot. That was delivered by Gamble, whose 3-point attempt from the top of the key bounced around on the rim before eventually falling through.
“I thought it was going to roll out,” she said. “I'm so happy it didn't.”
Benson had one final chance, but the Bunnies never got off a shot and turned the ball over with less than a second left.
“We had a couple of options on that last play for either a 2 or a 3,” Perone said. “We just didn't execute the way I'd hoped.”
Sydney McGruder led the Eagles with 11 points and nine rebounds. Paige Muhammad added nine points while Sylvia Smith-Gatson had nine points and 10 rebounds.
Gamble finished with six points — all in the fourth quarter. The sophomore is the younger sister of Emily Gamble, who helped the Eagles capture the Class A crown last year for the first time since 1984.
“Our goal was to get back to Lincoln,” Lee said. “We lost a lot of players to graduation, but I give this team credit for winning the district and getting us back to state.”
Sophomore forward Kianna Ibis led Benson with 14 points and 16 rebounds. She also had four blocks for the Bunnies, who should earn their first state tourney berth since 1997.
“We certainly feel like we deserve to go,” Perone said. “Hopefully it works out for us.”
Omaha Benson (16-7) ...................... 7 6 15 14—42
At Omaha Central (19-5) ................. 11 11 8 14—44
B: Kylee Askew 2, Moneeka Robinson 7, Arbrieal Benson 6, Octavia McGraw 6, Kianna Ibis 14, Montrese Weller 7.
C: Megan Gamble 6, Paige Muhammad 9, Abigail Niebrugge 7, Jacquelyn Beaugard 2, Sylvia Smith-Gatson 9, Sydney McGruder 11.
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• Video: See highlights from the Benson-Central game: