BENTON – Just as in their blowout loss at El Dorado (49-25) on Tuesday, the Benton Lady Panthers held a three-point lead at halftime against the Pine Bluff Fillies at Benton Arena on Tuesday, but couldn’t hold on and fell 38-36 in 7A/6A South Conference play.
“We just had a couple things not go our way,” Benton Coach Jerry Chumley said. “It was a battle right there to the end. We were down, fought hard and gave ourselves a chance to tie and win it, we just didn’t make it happen there at the end.”
After starting conference 5-0, the Lady Panthers (13-4, 5-2) have lost two straight and led 20-17 at halftime against the Fillies (15-5, 5-2) before Ajia Richardson started to take over for Pine Bluff. With Benton leading 21-17 after junior Ashlie Dintleman hit 1 of 2 free throws, the Fillies would score six straight, the last four coming from a Richardson offensive rebound and put back, and steal and breakaway lay up due to a lazy Lady Panther pass. Dintleman would hit 2 of 2 free throws to tie it up at 23-23 with just over five minutes left in the third. Senior Allison Reynolds would put Benton up 25-24 with a layup, but Richardson responded with a 3-pointer to retake the two-point lead.
With chances to cut into Pine Bluff’s advantage, Reynolds and junior Braylee Landreth each missed front ends of 1-and-1 free throws, and Richardson’s younger sister, Kye, would nail a 3-pointer to give Pine Bluff a 30-25 lead after three. With six turnovers in the third quarter and free-throw misses, the Lady Panthers attempted just one shot from the field in the third quarter.
“We’re not executing well at times,” Chumley said. “We turned the ball over a few times. We had about 10 or 11 turnovers in the second half. That cost us a few shots and we’re just not executing very well. We’re not running our stuff real sharp, we’re not concentrating on the little things offensively. There’s times when we should be attacking and we’re not, and they’re times we have shots and we’re not taking them. We’re just really out of sync right now.”
Down 33-25 with 5:38 left, Benton would get 1 of 2 free throws from Reynolds and an 8-foot jumper from Landreth, Benton’s second shot of the second half, to get the Lady Panthers within 33-28 with 4:19 left. Ajia Richardson hit a 12-footer for the seven-point lead, but Benton would respond. Reynolds would get consecutive buckets and junior guard Braxton Chumley laid it in to get within one point, 35-34, with 1:28 left in the game. Benton trailed 37-36 after a Chumley bucket with 35 seconds left, Ajia Richardson hit 1 of 2 free throws for Pine Bluff’s two-point advantage, but sophomore Skylar Davis’ scoop shot with less than five seconds left was short and the Fillies hung on for the win.
The Lady Panthers ended up shooting 6 for 10 from the field in the second half, but Pine Bluff had 13 more shots on goal and out rebounded Benton 28-24 for the game. Benton finished 6 of 16 from the free-throw line, including 4 of 10 in the second half.
“That’s probably the most disappointing thing,” Coach Chumley said of the free throws. “With Pine Bluff and El Dorado, you’re going to have turnovers, you’re going have a difficult time running your offense because they have very athletic guards. There’s nobody guarding you at the free-throw line. It’s just you and your thoughts, and right now we’re not up there with a solid mind. We’re not looking at it as an opportunity; we may have kids dreading it (going to the free-throw line) right now. We have to change our mindset. We got there enough to win the game, and a lot of those were 1-and-1’s. There’s the ballgame right there.”
Reynolds led the Lady Panthers with 11 points, Davis had seven, and Landreth and Chumley had six points each. Ajia Richardson had a game-high 22 points, six rebounds and three steals.
Up next for Benton will be rival Bryant Lady Hornets on Tuesday in the Saline County Shootout at Bryant Gym.
“Bryant’s been playing better here lately,” Chumley said. “We’re out of sync. We’re going to have to play better than this past week because Bryant is putting things together.”