BENTON – The Benton Panthers had very little problem to improving to 4-0 in the 7A/6A South conference when they trounced the Arkansas High (Texarkana) Razorbacks 51-23 in a make-up game on Thursday night. Originally scheduled for Tuesday night, the game was postponed to Thursday due to inclement weather.
The Panthers (15-2, 4-0) pounced on the Razorbacks like they’ve pounced on many teams this season – with junior forward Josh Bowling pushing the opening tip to a guard and streaking for the basket for the return pass and easy layup. Senior point guard Bryan Torres was the assist man on Thursday night as Bowling’s layup made it 2-0 with five seconds off the clock. The Razorbacks (xx, xx) would hit 1 of 2 free throws, but the Panthers took control of the game with a 12-0 run starting with a Bowling layup and capped by senior 6-9 postman Graham Gardner’s layup assisted by Torres.
Up 19-3 after an 8-foot jumper from Bowling assisted by junior forward Blake Bowlin, the Panthers led 20-6 after one quarter and used an 11-0 run in the second quarter began by another Bowling layup assisted by senior guard Rickey Gipson and capped once again by Gardner, this time on an offensive rebound and put back to make it 31-8 with 3:22 left in the half.
The Panthers were up 35-11 at halftime with Bowling outscoring the Razorbacks himself with 13 points, and Gardner and Torres adding 10 apiece. Benton shot 14 of 25 (56 percent) with 12 assists and just five turnovers, while holding Arkansas High to 4 of 23 shooting.
“We really, really played well the first half,” Benton Coach Chris Nail said. “I thought Graham and his 10 points in the first half helped us get going. Of course Josh played well, Bryan played well in the first half. The second half, we were a little sloppy, but it was a good win. I thought we handled the ball poorly in the second half, but the first half shows you how good we can play.”
The Panthers pretty much flip-flopped their assist-to-turnover numbers in the second half committing 13 turnovers to just five assists, but Benton’s defense wasn’t allowing much either so the Razorbacks could never mount any sort of a run. Benton ended a 5-0 run to start the second half with a Gipson to Bowling layup to go up 40-11 with 4:55 left in the third quarter. Bowlin hit a 3-pointer to put the Panthers up by 30, 43-13, and went into the fourth quarter leading 46-16 after Bowling’s old-fashioned three-point play when he was fouled on a made bucket and hit the free throw.
But the Panthers weren’t perfect as free throws in general were a thorn in their paw. Benton hit just 9 of 17 free throws.
“If that does not get better, that will cost us a game at some point,” Nail said of the free-throw shooting. “That just has to get better. That’s what I told them the two areas we need to work on the most is once again free throws. No. 2 is we have to do a better job on the glass against athletic teams. I thought their guards hurt us rebounding in the first half especially.”
A bigger team, the Panthers matched the Razorbacks with 15 rebounds apiece in the first half, but Benton held a plus-8 edge in rebounding in the second half.
For the game, the Panthers shot 19 of 38 (50 percent) from the field and 4 of 10 from 3-point range with Torres hitting 2 of 4. Arkansas High shot just 8 of 38 (21 percent) from the field and just 6 of 14 from the free-throw line.
Bowling hit his Saline County-leading scoring average of 19.4 with 19 points against the Razorbacks on 8 of 13 shooting and 3 of 4 from the free-throw line. He also added five rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals. Gardner finished with 10 points, four rebounds and three blocks, and Torres had 10 points, three assists and three steals. Senior Quin Allen had four points and six rebounds and Gipson didn’t score, but had four assists and three rebounds.
The Panthers have a short turnaround as they go to Pearcy tonight to take on the Lake Hamilton Wolves in South conference action.
“They’re really a polar opposite to Texarkana,” Nail said of Lake Hamilton. “They shoot the ball well from the outside, but they’re not overly athletic. Our thought process for [tonight] is to guard the 3-point line and really try to speed them up.”