MAHOMET — Cory Noe and Noah Benedict. For more than 10 years, the two have provided a staple on basketball courts whenever a Mahomet-Seymour Community Unit School District team is involved.
No, it's not merely a recent phenomenon. Though Noe and Benedict are key cogs in M-S' high school boys' program (21-10) heading into tonight's Class 3A Decatur Eisenhower Sectional semifinal against Springfield Southeast (25-3), the duo has been affecting games and tournaments since the early elementary years.
There's even photo evidence.
The Benedict family possesses various images of the two together, on or around the hardwood. Plenty of snapshots show the pair, specifically in fifth and sixth grade, in the midst of a game or smiling for a scrapbook addition afterward.
"First kid I met here when I moved here in first grade," Benedict said of Noe. "It's definitely been a heck of a ride together. I think we push each other to make each other better."
The longtime pals have improved whatever team they've competed for as well. As seventh-graders, Noe and Benedict saw their hoops team earn a No. 6 seed in IESA regional action. Their eighth-grade squad leaped to a third seed the following year.
As high school freshmen, they got to witness M-S coach Chad Benedict — Noah's father — lead the Bulldogs to a regional championship on their own floor, followed by the school's first sectional crown since 1995.
The youngsters have since helped M-S win two more regional wins, including last Friday's triumph over Urbana in Mahomet.
"It's pretty cool," Noe said. "When we were little, we'd always go to the high school basketball games. So to see that it's finally our time, it's fun."
Chad has a photo of that, too. His son and Noe are seated side by side at the top row of the bleachers, watching prep athletes rush up and down the court. Did they know they'd soon be among the Bulldog stars attempting to bring postseason hardware to Mahomet-Seymour High School?
It's hard to say for sure. Regardless, Chad said being directly involved with a bond like that of Noe and Noah has been an enjoyable experience — for both his dad side and his coach side.
"With Noah being part of this class, I've watched this senior class grow up," Chad said. "We moved here, and Noah was going into first grade, and Cory was the first kid I met at camp. So there's just a unique bond because you're with them (so often)."
This storyline falls by the wayside once M-S tips off against any opponent, though. Noe and Noah are entirely focused on the task at hand, not on an extensive friendship that goes well beyond basketball.
It paid dividends last Friday against the Tigers. With Urbana trying to shut down Noe, Noah made himself a valuable asset in the paint to the tune of 10 quick points.
Another example of the pair making one another better players, as Noah puts it.
"Honestly, everyone comes out and guards Cory really tight," Noah said. "That's just how it is. But I got some open looks through the offense. I'm glad I took advantage of them."
The Bulldogs will seek more of the same tonight against the Associated Press' second-ranked team in Class 3A. Noe, a 6-foot-2 guard, averages a team-leading 21.1 points along with 5.4 rebounds per tilt, while Noah, a 6-4 guard, pulls down a Bulldogs-best 6.6 boards per night to go with 9.7 points.
So there's no doubt the relationship these boys have formed is among the reasons the Bulldogs are contending for a Sweet 16 spot. But Noe and Noah are aware M-S' status this season is about more than what two buddies can get done on the court.
"I don't want to forget everyone else that's been on the floor with us this year," Noah said. "All the other seniors. You can't forget about any of the juniors, sophomores and freshmen, either. All the way down the line."