CABOT â€“ The Benton Panthers have a 4:30 p.m. Saturday date in the Cabot Pre-Holiday tournament final after defeating the Hot Springs Lakeside Rams 52-42 in the semifinal round on Wednesday night in Cabot. The Panthers are looking to win their second consecutive tournament in less than a week as they won the Searcy Bank Classic this past Saturday.
It was a low-scoring affair in the first half as the Panthers committed a season-high 17 turnovers against the Rams, but Benton played solid defense in holding an 18-13 lead at the half.
â€śThe reason we won was defense,â€ť Benton Coach Chris Nail said. â€śWe played really good defense. We were getting good looks (on offense), we just didnâ€™t finish in the first half.
â€śWe just didnâ€™t handle the ball well at all. It was a deal where some of our guys had three turnovers that donâ€™t turn it over that often.â€ť
Benton (7-0) was also without its leading scorer for the season, junior Josh Bowling, due to a broken nose from an elbow he took in the first game of the Cabot tourney. Bowling will have surgery today and will miss two weeks of action according to Nail.
A run to start the third quarter allowed the Panthers to pull away as they built a 15-point lead before going into the fourth quarter leading 35-26. Senior forward Zach Stuckey scored six points in a row, and finished with 14 for the game, to help propel the Panthers to the win. Stuckey also had six rebounds to lead Benton.
Senior guard Quinn Allen had 10 points and senior post Graham Gardner had eight.
It was a good thing the Panther defense showed up because Benton only shot 37 percent from the field, including 1 for 12 from 3-point range, but did shoot 11 of 14 from the free-throw line. Benton also outrebounded Lakeside 34-27.
â€śIt wasnâ€™t pretty tonight, but weâ€™ll take it,â€ť Nail said.
Benton will face the winner of Cabot and Vilonia, which play Friday, in the tournament final on Saturday at 4:30 p.m.