BRYANT – After the Bryant Lady Hornets came up with the upset victory over their Benton counterparts, the Hornets couldn’t duplicate the feat as the Benton Panthers swept Bryant this season and took the Saline County Shootout trophy with a 73-60 win over Bryant on Wednesday night at the Hornets’ Nest in Bryant.
“The good thing about it is, number one it was a sweep of Bryant,” Benton Coach Dwaine Fishburn said, “number two, now we’re in sole possession of first place, and number three, we’re defending conference champions.”
Up 6-4 early in the first quarter, the Panthers would go on 9-0 run with four different Panthers scoring and a 15-4 lead with just under four minutes remaining. Benton sophomore Cason Maertens would hit a 3-pointer with one second left in the first to give the Panthers a 20-8 lead after one.
The Panthers (16-5, 7-1 7A/6A South) would take a 15-point lead, 33-18, with 1:49 left in the half after senior Josh Bowling’s 5-footer, and Benton would lead 37-22 at the half. Benton’s Maertens and Bryant freshman Romen Martin each scored 12 points in the first half, while Bowling added 10 points, four rebounds and three assists.
“It was amazing defense by our kids in the first half,” Benton Coach Dwaine Fishburn said. “We stopped C.J. Rainey and we put Luke (Vincent) on him. Luke really did a great job holding him to one point in the first half.”
Rainey, who is second in Saline County with an 18.5 point-per-game average, was just 0 of 2 from the field in the first half, but Bryant would chip away in the third quarter.
Senior Greyson Giles would score Bryant’s first nine points of the third quarter including an and-1 bucket but missed the free throw for a 42-31 Hornet deficit with 5:07 left in the third.
“They went to work in the third quarter, or Giles did,” Fishburn said, “but the people they normally want to go through, they didn’t. They turned the pressure up and I thought our kids did an awesome job of responding.”
After Hornet Kevin Hunt’s 12-foot jumper, Benton senior Blake Bowlin and Tarek Beaugard would get consecutive layups, and Bowlin would find Beaugard for a layup to put the Panthers up 50-35 with 2:13 left. Beaugard would find Vincent for a layup for a 54-40 lead with 31 seconds left in the third quarter, which Benton would lead 54-42.
Bowlin found Josh Bowling cutting to the basket for a dunk which started a 6-0 run for the Panthers and a 63-46 lead with 4:48 left. Hunt would get an and-1 layup and free throw to get the Hornets within 64-53 with 3:00 left in the game, but consecutive layups by Bowlin would seal the deal for the Panthers and sole possession of first place in the South.
“The big thing for us is we were able to answer offensively,” Fishburn said. “When they challenged us defensively, we went and scored. We nearly had five people in double figures. In the first half, we did a great job defensively. In the second half, it was the offense. They were very, very physical and our kids didn’t let the physicalness get to them.”
Bowling had a game-high 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
“Josh, one-on-one, there’s not a better player in our conference,” Fishburn said of his senior. “He’s one of the overall best players in the state. It’s very difficult to contain him one-on-one.”
Maertens followed with 16 points, Vincent had 10 points, Beaugard and sophomore Clay Anderson each had nine points, and Bowlin had eight points and nine rebounds.
Giles led the Hornets with 17 points, Martin had 14 and Rainey finished with 11. Benton shot 73 percent (32-44) from the field for the game to Bryant’s 48 percent. Benton out rebounded Bryant 26-15.
“Now we have the only team to beat us so far in the first round, Fair,” Fishburn said. “We have to be focused, we only have one day to prepare. We have to be ready to take care of Fair. Come Friday, we have to protect our house. I’m excited.”