BENTON – It is not too often that there is a basketball game played with two coaches with the same ties to both schools playing. But for Benton Freshmen Panthers and Harmony Grove Cardinals’ junior varsity, Wednesday’s opening-round match of the Benton Classic had just that.
First-year head coach Dexter Hendrix, a 2006 Benton graduate returned to the same floor that he played on as he led his team into the Benton Arena to battle Panther Head Coach David Torres. Torres was the longtime senior girl’s coach at Harmony Grove before moving to Benton in the early 2000s.
Aside from being familiar with each other, Torres and his Panthers took care of business on the floor Wednesday, beating Hendrix and the Cardinals 39-20.
“That is kind of hard to do that to an old (school) that I am still so loyal too,” Torres said. “That was a good time in my career so it was tough, but we are trying to get ready for Little Rock Catholic on Monday. That’s why we had this Classic. Hopefully this will get us ready for the conference season.”
Harmony Grove started the game off in horrible fashion, turning the ball over its first three possessions resulting in six quick points for Benton.
“I thought this was really good for our boys that don’t get as much playing time as our other guys,” Hendrix said. “They have played some really good competition already this season like Lake Hamilton and Poyen. The more work we can get against good teams, I think this is going to help us out a lot down the stretch.”
Westin Riddick hit the game’s first bucket, giving Benton a 2-0 advantage. Cason Maertens and Ben Powell hit two free throws each to put Benton up 6-0 early.
“Harmony Grove ended up with four turnovers in the first quarter and we converted several of those,” Torres said.
The Panthers jumped out to a nine-point lead to start the game before Chris Hawkins hit a big 3-pointer to stop the bleeding for a second.
At the end of the first, Benton had a comfortable lead at 14-6. The second quarter consisted of good scoring from the Panthers and great defense as well. For Harmony Grove, the second was one to forget. After putting up just six in the opening six minutes, Harmony Grove scored just two in the second quarter on two made free throws from guard Larry McMurray.
For Benton, the scoring was not huge but enough to give the Panthers a 23-8 halftime lead.
“I thought we shot the ball well early,” Torres said. “The first quarter really was the key and got us rolling. We are fatigued and they are too, coming off the break so we played about as well as we could or should have.”
Benton had not played since Dec. 13.
Harmony Grove continued to struggle offensively in the second half, scoring a total of 12 points. Benton, on the other hand, put up 16 after an 11-point third quarter. WIth the benches full of starters for both teams in the fourth quarter, Benton rolled to a 19-point win over the Cardinals to advance in the Classic.
“Harmony Grove has got a great coach in Hendrix,” Torres said. “He is doing a great job down there.”
Maertens led the Panthers with 12 in the win. Riddick followed with nine while Clay Anderson added eight.
For the Cardinals, turnovers were a big factor in the loss. Harmony Grove turned the ball over 15 times while forcing 10 on Benton. Devon Stowe, Grant Moen and Hawkins all had five points for Harmony Grove.
“One of our biggest weaknesses his handling pressure,” Hendrix said. “We have got to be able to handle it better whether it is in the half court or full court. I thought we did a pretty good job in the half-court defense.”
With the win over Harmony Grove, Benton improves to 11-3 on the year. Full game stories will be in tomorrow’s issue of The Saline Courier from today’s games.
Benton will take on McClellan on Friday while Harmony Grove battles Parkview.
Parkview beat McClellan on Wednesday.