BRYANT - After being swept by their rival Bryant Hornets and Lady Hornets last season, the Benton Panthers and Lady Panthers went to Bryant gym on Friday night and took got back at their rivals routing the Hornets 62-44 and the Lady Hornets 49-33. Not only did Benton top their biggest rivals, the Panthers and Lady Panthers won their first 7A/6A South conference game of the year. Bryant was in the 7A Central conference last year.
The big story for the Panthers (12-2, 1-0 7A/6A South) was the fact they held a 33-11 rebounding edge over the Hornets (11-4, 0-1).
“We thought when the game started we had an advantage in size,” Benton Coach Chris Nail said. “We did a good job with that.”
The other story for Benton was that junior forward Josh Bowling, Saline County’s leading scorer with a 20.7 average before Friday’s game, was held to six points due to foul trouble.
“He got into foul trouble and just kept getting into foul trouble,” Nail said. “But, that’s a positive when your leading scorer doesn’t play many minutes and you score 62 points.”
It didn’t take long for Benton to get on the board as Bowling won the opening tip, which went to senior Panther guard Bryan Torres, who in turn passed it back to Bowling for a layup with four seconds off the clock. Sophomore Hornets guard KJ Hill responded with an 8-foot jumper while fouled, and made the free throw to make it 3-2 Bryant.
The Panthers would go up 10-5 after two Zach Stuckey free throws, but junior Hornets guard Tyler Simmons hit a three to make it a two-point game with 3:34 left in the first quarter. Simmons would hit another three at the 1:51 mark to make it 12-11 Panthers.
Down 18-15 early in the second quarter, Simmons hit another three to tie it at 18-apiece with 6:19 left in the half. Junior Hornet Greyson Giles hit two free throws to tie it at 20, but that’s as close as it would be.
The Panthers took a 31-25 lead into the half and went on an 11-2 run started by a Blake Bowlin to Stuckey layup and ended on a 3-pointer from Torres. Hill would make consecutive baskets to make it a 42-31Hornets’ deficit, but Benton would add on to go into the fourth up 52-34.
“My two game balls would go out to Bryan Torres and Zach Stuckey,” Nail said. “[Stuckey] almost didn’t play. He’s been sick the last few days. That made it more impressive. He looked terrible in shoot-around. Bryan did a great job of handling their pressure.”
Stuckey scored a game-high 16 points, grabbed four rebounds and had two steals, while Torres had three points and four assists and ran the show for Benton.
Bowlin had 13 points, hitting 7 of 9 free throws, and five rebounds, junior post player Graham Gardner had a double-double 11 points and 12 rebounds, senior Rickey Gipson had seven points and senior Quin Allen had six points, five rebounds and three assists.
For Bryant, Hill had 14 points, Simmons had 11, Giles had seven and junior guard CJ Rainey had five.
The Hornets shot 36 percent (14 of 39) while the Panthers shot 57 percent (24 of 42).
“The Benton/Bryant game is always a big game,” Nail started, “but now it’s even bigger because of conference. Bryant is one of the better teams in the league, so beating them on their home floor was a big win us.”
For the ladies, Bryant struck first on senior Logan Davis’ layup and senior Courtney Davidson would get an offensive rebound and put back to make it 4-0 Lady Hornets (6-9, 0-1 7A/6A South) with 5:24 left in the first. Junior Carmen King hit a 3-pointer for Benton’s first points with 4:11 left and sophomore forward Braylee Landreth hit an 18-foot jumper to put the Lady Panthers (10-4, 1-0) ahead 5-4 with 3:33 left. Bryant would not be denied, though, as the Lady Hornets finished the quarter on a 5-0 run, capped by junior Dezarea Duckworth’s consecutive buckets to make it 9-5 going into the second quarter.
“It was like I thought it would be,” Benton Coach Jerry Chumley said. “It was really hard.”
The Lady Panthers would not lay down as junior forward Allison Reynolds made a bucket and two free throws, and sophomore Braxton Chumley a layup to start the second quarter on a 6-0 run for an 11-9 Benton lead. Benton would push its lead to 18-10 with 2:00 left in the half, but Davis would hit a 3-pointer assisted by Duckworth to make it 18-13, which would be the halftime score.
Duckworth would open the half with a 3-foot runner to make it a three-point game, but Landreth would respond with a layup, which would be the first of her 15 second-half points. She would finish with 17 points, six rebounds, four blocks and three steals.
“When she is mentally into it, [Landreth plays well],” Coach Chumley said. “She didn’t get to practice [Thursday] because she was sick. You could tell she was ready to go and she proved what she can do night in and night out. She was tough. We have to have her and she showed up tonight in the biggest game of the year so far.”
Up 25-19 after Braxton Chumley made a layup, was fouled and hit the free throw, the Lady Panthers would push their lead to 31-21 when Landreth laid it in with 48 seconds left in the third quarter.
“We played really well out of halftime, something we haven’t been doing” Coach Chumley said. “We made our free throws and didn’t turn the ball over very much. That’s a good formula for us.”
Benton hit 20 of 25 (80 percent) free throws, while Bryant hit just 8 of 19 (42 percent). Both teams shot under 30 percent in the first half, but the Lady Panthers hit 9 of 13 field goals and 13 of 17 free throws in the second half.
“They have such good 3-point shooters,” Bryant Coach Brad Matthews said. “I thought for most of the game, we did a pretty good job defensively. [Benton] got a little momentum in the third and fourth quarters and we couldn’t answer. Our kids played hard. I thought we gave good effort. We just have to do a little bit better job on offense.”
“Bryant didn’t shoot the ball well,” Chumley said. “We know they can shoot it better. Overall we played hard, rebounded the basketball well and took care of the basketball. We were smarter and tougher in the second half and I’m really proud of the girls for that.”
After Landreth’s 17 points, senior Madi Brooks scored eight points and grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds, Reynolds scored seven, and Chumley and senior Korie Parker scored six each.
For Bryant, Davis and Duckworth had 11 points each, with Duckworth adding seven rebounds. Davidson had seven points and six rebounds, and after a 12 for 12 showing from the free-throw line Bryant’s previous game, she struggled to just 3 for 9 against Benton. Bryant shot 30 percent for the game.
“Our number one goal was to leave 1-0 in the league and we got that done,” Chumley said. “To do it at Bryant against your rival makes it even sweeter.