BENTON – It didn’t look promising for the Benton Lady Panthers on Tuesday night, but they remained undefeated in 7A/6A South conference play with a 33-29 victory over the El Dorado Lady Wildcats at Benton Arena. Besides a 3-2 lead at the 5:54 mark of the first quarter, the Lady Panthers wouldn’t lead again until sophomore guard Braxton Chumley hit a 3-pointer with 4:41 left in the fourth to give Benton a 28-27 lead.
Junior Lady Panther forward Allison Reynolds hit two free throws with 3:14 on the clock for the three-point advantage before the Lady Wildcats put in a bucket for a 30-29 Benton lead with 2:55 left. Chumley found Reynolds for a layup at the 1:50 mark and the Lady Panther defense held El Dorado the rest of the way for the win to improve to 15-4 overall and 6-0 in conference.
“We battled back and Braxton started hitting some shots,” Benton Coach Jerry Chumley said. “Allison was making her free throws. We just battled back. We got the lead and kind of got going there in the second half.”
The daughter Chumley (8) and Reynolds (7) scored all 15 points for the Lady Panthers in the fourth quarter with Reynolds hitting 5 of 6 free throws. Chumley finished with a game-high 12 points, 11 coming in the second half, and Reynolds followed with eight.
Though the second half was much better for the Lady Panthers, the first was one to forget. After the early 3-2 lead behind sophomore Ashlie Dintleman’s 3-foot jumper and the and-1 free throw, El Dorado finished the first quarter on a 9-2 run to lead 11-5 after one. A layup by Yasmyne Jones and an offensive rebound and put back by Taylor McCool put the Lady Wildcats up 15-5 with 6:00 left in the half.
Benton slowly, but surely fought back from that point on. The score was 15-9 after two of sophomore Braylee Landreth’s free throws, and after another McCool bucket, senior Benton forward Madi Brooks took a pass from fellow senior Korie Parker for a layup, and Brooks would hit two free throws to end the half with the Lady Panthers down 17 -13. Benton shot 3 of 18 (17 percent) from the field and 7 of 14 from the free-throw line in the first half.
“It was a very lethargic first half,” Coach Chumley said. “Five points after one quarter, 13 at the half, really a mirror image of the first half Friday night at Lake Hamilton (a 41-29 victory). I’m doing a poor job evidently of getting us ready to play.
“If it comes down to missed shots, I’m OK, but then we didn’t really guard well early in the game; let them get out a little bit. We were giving up some layups. Their guards had three layups in 5-on-5 situations. That’s not like us. Normally we close that off.”
The second half definitely didn’t start well for the Lady Panthers as Jones nailed a 3-pointer to open the third quarter. Landreth would hit a 3-foot jumper with 2:06 left in the quarter for Benton’s first points of the half and with the Lady Panthers down 23-15 with just over a minute left, Chumley energized the team and the crowd with a 3-pointer with two seconds left in the quarter to make it a five-point game going into the fourth.
“That was big,” Coach Chumley said of daughter Chumley’s three. “If they score on their end, we go down maybe seven or eight. She comes down and hits that three, we had a little energy in the huddle. She hit a couple more in the fourth quarter and the defense tightened up. I’m proud of them for hanging in. When we got down 10, we could have folded it in.”
Two Reynolds free throws opened the fourth and Chumley just took the ball away from a Lady Wildcat at half court for a steal and a layup to make it a 23-22 Benton deficit with 7:34 left. After a layup by McCool, Chumley took a pass from Parker and nailed a three to tie it up at 25-apiece with 7:05 left in the fourth.
“We survived a lot,” Coach Chumley said. “We had a poor practice [Monday] night. We survived that. Survived a very poor first half. That’s a mark of a tough team. We’re getting tougher. I think we grew up a little bit [Tuesday] night. We needed that.”
Brooks finished with six points and 10 rebounds for the Lady Panthers, and though she didn’t score, Parker had seven rebounds as the Lady Panthers outrebounded the Lady Wildcats 14-5 in the second half after both teams had 13 in the first half. Jones led El Dorado with 11 points on 5 of 15 shooting.