BENTON – It didn’t start well for the Benton Panthers against their arch rival Bryant Hornets on Friday night at Benton Arena, but a 20-0 run from the end of the first quarter until the beginning of the third quarter propelled the Panthers to a 41-34 victory over the Hornets. It was both teams’ first 7A/6A South conference game of the season.
“That kills a lot of ills, definitely,” Benton Coach Dwaine Fishburn said of the run. “One of our first keys was transition defense. [Bryant] likes to score in the 60s. For us to be successful, our scores need to be in the 40s and 50s because of our depth and experience.”
The Hornets (4-7, 0-1 South) would get a 10-foot jumper from senior guard C.J. Rainey, who then assisted teammate Cedarrian Crosby for a layup and an early 4-0 lead. Bryant would lead 11-2 with 39 seconds left in the first quarter after freshman Desmond Duckworth’s 3-pointer, but that would be all the scoring the Hornets would do for the next 11 minutes of game time.
Down 11-3 at the end of one, the Panthers (10-4, 1-0) would get within 11-6 after sophomore Cason Maertens’ three, and senior Josh Bowling’s layup assisted by Tarek Beaugard got Benton within 11-8 with 6:34 left in the half. Sophomore Clay Anderson hit two free throws to tie it at 11-apiece, and Maertens would hit his second three of the quarter and give the Panthers the lead for good with 1:27 left in the half, which Benton would lead 18-11.
“We wanted to keep C.J. Rainey (19.2 PPG) in check and we really did,” Fishburn said. “I switched our defenses from the first quarter to the second quarter and that really allowed us to go on that 20-0 score. Cason Maertens was a big boost for us in the second quarter. He did an excellent job of hitting some shots and moving the ball around.”
Anderson and Beaugard would get consecutive layups to start the second half to make it a 22-11 game with 6:27 left in the third. Rainey found senior Caleb Strain down low for a layup to snap the 20-0 run at the 5:12 mark.
It was a 26-18 Benton lead after three before Rainey’s layup to begin the fourth got Bryant within six points, but Benton junior Nathan Humble, who was just inserted in the lineup for his first action of the game, nailed a three from the corner to put Benton up by nine and start a 7-0 run, which was capped by an Anderson steal and layup to put Benton on top 33-20 with 4:58 left in the game.
“Nathan is a young and inexperienced player, but every time I put him in, he doesn’t hesitate,” Fishburn said. “If he’s open, he’s going to fire it up. He’s hit some big threes for us.”
Bryant would get within 35-31 after freshman Romen Martin’s 3-pointer with 55 seconds left, but Bowling would hit 4 of 4, and Anderson 2 of 2 free throws to shut the game out.
“From the second quarter on, I thought our defense really did a good job,” Fishburn said. “We did a great job on our free throws in the fourth quarter. Those were some positive things for us.
“The game was a typical Benton/Bryant slugfest. It doesn’t matter who has the best records, it doesn’t matter what we’ve done in pre-conference games, because we do know each other so well.”
Bowling, who hit 8 of 10 from the free-throw line for the game, led all scorers with 16 points and added 10 rebounds for a double-double. Anderson scored 10 points (4 of 4 FT), had four rebounds, four steals and two assists, and Maertens had nine points and three rebounds. For Bryant, Rainey had eight points and four assists, senior Greyson Giles had seven points and three assists, and Martin had six points and three rebounds.
“I don’t like playing from behind, but it shows a lot of guts and maturity for our kids,” Fishburn said. “We’ve been behind in several games, got jumped on in the first quarter. I hate starting off slow, but at least our kids show they can come back.
“I was so proud for our seniors. Not only did they take care of our home, but their last home game against Bryant.”
Next up for the Panthers will be the Fair War Eagles in Little Rock on Tuesday. Bryant hosts Pine Bluff on Tuesday.