GREENBRIER ¬– The Benton Lady Panthers made it to the finals of the Battle at the Brier, but fell 30-28 in a defensive battle to the Rogers Heritage Lady War Eagles on Saturday night. Benton led the whole game until Lacey Murray hit a 3-pointer to tie it at 28-apiece and Brittany Ward hit the game-winner with five seconds remaining, while Benton could not get a shot off in the end.
“You have to give Rogers Heritage a lot of credit,” Benton Coach Jerry Chumley said. “They were real physical with our guards. They did everything they could to take Braxton [Chumley] out of the game. She did a good job handling the ball some, but she’s our leading scorer and she didn’t get one, maybe two good looks at the basket all night.”
Chumley was held scoreless for the first time this season as the Lady War Eagles were down big to start the fourth quarter, but hit 3 of their 4 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to come back.
“The fourth quarter, they started shooting it well and we turned it over some,” Coach Chumley said. “Some bad passes there in the fourth quarter. Cross-court passes that got picked off. I only played six [the past two games]. We were just worn down. I’m not making excuses. Rogers outplayed us offensively.”
Though the Lady Panthers (9-4) were edged on the offensive end, Chumley could not say enough about his team’s defensive performance over the past three games in the tourney, which included at 60-50 win over Guy-Perkins and 41-31 win over Watson Chapel.
“We did a real good job all three games this tournament playing defense,” he said. “It was a good week for us, but Rogers showed us some weaknesses. We got to handle physical pressure better and we have to play better through in that kind of adversity. I think we will. We have a tough team and have some pieces of the puzzle that fit nicely. We just have to keep going.”
Seniors Korie Parker and Madi Brooks led Benton with nine points each, while sophomores Ashlie Dintleman and Braylee Landreth finished with four each.
But one telling statistic was the fact the Lady Panthers hit just 2 of 10 free throws in the loss after hitting 12 of 14 the previous game.
“Two of 10 as a team from free-throw line,” Chumley said. “You’re looking at a two-point loss and you missed eight free throws. And one of those was a front end of a one-and-one. We had our chances there if we shoot our free throws better. I thought we executed well and played extremely hard, especially on the defensive end. There were times we weren’t patient on offense.”
Even though Benton didn’t pick up the tournament championship, the Lady Panthers’ core of sophomores got some invaluable experience for the future.
“Braxton, Ashlie and Braylee, our three sophomores that we play a ton, it’s probably the most adversity that they’ve been in in their young careers,” Chumley said. “Rogers was real physical with us and I’m not complaining about the officials. They were really physical with us.
“It really gave you a sense of what it’s going to be like in the state tournament and some of these road conference games where you’ll have to fight through that. A game like this can teach you a lot if you’re a student of the game. I don’t think we could have got anything more if we had played somebody else. I don’t know if we could have learned as much about ourselves and what we need to do as a team.”
Next up for the Lady Panthers is none other than a matchup with nemesis Bryant on Friday, which also happens to be the first 6A South conference game.
“I told the girls, ‘It’s 0-0 now for everybody,” Chumley said. “The real season starts Friday. It doesn’t matter what our records are. It’s a rivalry game and means so much to everybody and now it’s a conference game, you want to get off to a good start. I figure it will go down to the wire. An all-out slugfest. The team that makes the least amount of mistakes and the team that makes their free throws will probably win it. The main thing is getting off to a good start in conference.”