MOUNTAIN HOME – Junior forward Josh Bowling helped give the Benton Panthers a turkey as far as winning their third consecutive tournament championship when they defeated the Little Rock Episcopal Wildcats 65-47 on Saturday in the finals of the Mountain Home Tournament. Bowling scored 25 points and grabbed 15 rebounds as the Panthers’ size netted the victory after being down by 10 points at the half.
“Our size just kind of wore them down as the game went on,” Benton Coach Chris Nail said. “They were guard-oriented and as the game went on, their legs got tired and it affected their shots. It was really an overall defensive effort in the second half to get the win.”
The two teams played about even in the first quarter with the Panthers trailing 16-14, but the Wildcats found their shot in the second quarter to take a 36-26 lead into the half.
“We were giving up easy shots in the first half and they were making them,” Nail said. “In the second half, Graham blocked some shots. Overall, the kids just started playing better.”
Senior 6-9 post Graham Gardner added 14 points and eight rebounds and senior point guard Bryant Torres had 13 points, shooting 3 of 4 from the 3-point line.
The Panthers (11-2), which won the Searcy Classic and the Cabot Pre-holiday Tournament earlier in the month, outscored Episcopal 39-11 in the second half to make their 10-point halftime deficit into an 18-point rout.
The Benton Panthers won their first-round game of the Mountain Home Tournament 73-46 on Friday.
Senior post player Graham Gardner had 15 points and six rebounds, senior point guard Bryan Torres had 12 points and four assists, junior Blake Bowlin had 10 points, senior Rickey Gipson had nine, junior Josh Bowling had eight and senior Zach Stuckey had six.
“Blake got us going and Graham played his best game of the year,” Nail said.
Up next for the Panthers is rival Bryant in the first 6A South conference game of the season. Tipoff will be at 7:30 at the Bryant Gym.
“They have a very good sophomore guard (KJ Hill),” Nail said of Bryant. “They’re very guard-heavy, very athletic. It should be a good game. It always is.”