Panthers end special year

GREENWOOD – The Benton Panthers fell to the Jonesboro Golden Hurricane 61-51 to end their record-breaking season in the semifinals of the 6A State Tournament in Greenwood on Saturday. The Panthers end the year with a school record 27 wins against just three losses and went undefeated in winning the 6A South conference.
“We lose three games all year long, but it’s hard not to get emotional now, but we shouldn’t be,” Benton Coach Chris Nail said after the game. “It’s been a great year, but it’s disappointing. We had an opportunity to win, but we didn’t. Bryan obviously played out of his mind tonight, but he didn’t get a lot of help to go with it.”
Senior point guard Bryan Torres scored 30 points in the loss, hitting 6 of 7 from the 3-point line, 8 of 10 from the free-throw line and 8 of 13 from the field. Torres scored 23 points in the second half, singlehandedly trying to keep the Panthers in the game.
The Panthers trailed 38-25 midway through the third quarter before Torres hit consecutive 3-pointers to make it a seven-point game. But, the Hurricane followed with a 9-0 run to take a 16-point lead with 7:40 left in the game.
Jonesboro, which will play Little Rock Hall in the state final, led 53-37 before Benton would make a little run. Torres sandwiched two 3-pointers around a Kahron Ross (18 points) bucket to pull within 12 points, senior Panther Rickey Gipson hit an 8-foot jumper and Torres was fouled shooting a 3-pointer in which he hit all three foul shots to get within seven points, 55-48, with 2:16 left in the game. But, the Panthers would not get any closer.
“The kids worked real hard all year long, we just didn’t quite play well [Saturday] night,” Nail said.
The Panthers were uncharacteristic in their play, though a very good Jonesboro team had something to do with that, as Benton hit 3 of 9 free throws in the first half and 10 of 19 in the game. The Panthers also hit just 6 of 17 (35 percent) and were outrebounded 15 to 8 in the first half and 22 to 15 for the game.
“There are a lot of things to look at,” Nail said reasoning the loss. “Free throws, we got outrebounded, didn’t get a whole lot of points in the paint. That hurt us.”
The Panthers never led in the game getting within 13-11 after junior Josh Bowling’s layup assisted by senior Quin Allen. Jonesboro would lead 15-11 after one and 17-11 early in the second quarter before layups from Torres and Allen put the Panthers within 17-15 with 5:25 left in the first half. With a chance to tie it, Bowling missed two free throws, and Allen missed the front end of a 1-and-1 before Jonesboro went on a 7-0 run and would lead 26-17 at the half.
Benton never recovered. Torres nailed a three to start the second half and get the Panthers within 26-20, but Aaron Washington scored a bucket and Marquise Bryant hit a three to put the Hurricane up 31-20 with 6:37 left in the third.
Behind Torres’ 30 points, Gipson scored all eight of his points in the second half, Bowling, who leads Saline County in scoring, had six points and six rebounds, Allen had four points and junior Blake Bowlin had three points and three rebounds. Senior post player Graham Gardner was in foul trouble most of the game and was held scoreless.
“It was a great year, awesome kids,” Nail said of his team. “It’s a fantastic group of kids to be around. Great seniors. Bryan, Quin, Rick, Graham, [Zach] Stuckey (illness), your heart goes out to him because he didn’t get to play. They’re all quality people. They represented the school and the program well for three years.”