Seniors shine on Sr. Night

Benton senior Evan Sims goes up for a bucket in a 53-40 win over the McClellan Lions on senior night at Benton Arena on Friday. Sims had 16 points and nine rebounds in the win. GREG DAVIS/Special to The Saline Courier
Tony Lenahan
Staff Writer

Benton Panthers seniors Jai Peters and Evan Sims scored 17 and 16 points, respectively, in a 53-40 victory over the McClellan Crimson Lions Friday on senior night at Benton Arena. Junior Maleek McClendon added 14 points to put three players in double figures and snap a four-game losing streak, the longest for the Panthers since the 2009-10 season.
“Some how, some way we wanted to find a way to win for our seniors, and that way was defense,” Benton Coach Dexter Hendrix said. “We did a great job, especially in the second half, of getting stops at the right time, and being able to make enough plays. You have to give credit to McClellen, they were all over the place - their ball pressure and their trap, it makes it difficult.”
It was the final regular-season game for the Panthers (17-9, 6-6 district) as they turn around and play Saturday to open the 6A West Conference Tournament hosting the No. 7 seed Russellville Cyclones, with the Panthers tabbed with the No. 2 seed.
On Friday, it remained a close game throughout until Benton outscored the Lions 16-8 in the final quarter to take control.
“I was proud of our players, especially our seniors,” Hendrix said. “I thought they all had some big plays at some crucial times; Connor’s (Croft) free throws, Jai scoring the basketball for us and getting some crucial steals, and Evan just gutting it out after injury on senior night. I’m just really proud of all three of those guys.”
Sims, the Panthers’ second leading scorer, was injured last week against Sheridan, having to come out of the game in the third quarter and missed Monday’s makeup game in a loss to the Pine Bluff Zebras. The injury ended up being a deep bone bruise and Sims definitely responded with his 16 points, adding nine rebounds and two blocks.
The No. 2 seed Panthers will take on the No. 7 seed Cyclones (9-17, 4-8) Saturday at 1:30 at Benton Arena.