Benton breaks up defensive struggle then holds off Hornets to win

It was a tug-o-war at the Hornets Nest Tuesday. Here, Benton's Graham Gardner, left, and Bryant's Quinton Motto grapple in front of Benton's Tyler Gattin (21) under the boards. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)By Rob Patrick

Photos by Kevin Nagle 

For three quarters, the scoring woes that had marked the Bryant Hornets’ season opener against Fort Smith Southside continued against the rival Benton Panthers on Tuesday night.

The Hornets managed just[more] 10 points, three field goals through those three quarters but, because they were out-rebounding the Panthers and playing pretty good defense themselves, the Panthers hadn’t been able to open up a double-digit lead until right at the end of the third period.

Bryant's Jordan Griffin (5) drives around Benton's Nick Garner. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

A couple of minutes into the fourth quarter, they found themselves down 27-10. But then, when a little desperation seemed to set in, the Hornets erupted for 17 points in the final 6:20.

Though they suffered a 40-27 loss in the end, they whittled the lead to 10 on three occasions in the final three minutes. They just couldn’t get the bucket they needed to extend their runs and Benton converted 10 of 19 free throws in the final period to keep them at bay before a packed house at the Hornets Nest.

“I thought our defense was pretty good,” acknowledged Hornets first-year coach Mike Abrahamson. “I thought we rebounded well. I thought we did a decent job of taking away some of the things that they were trying to do. And I thought that, at times, even though our offense was stagnant and passive, we were getting open shots, they just weren’t falling. It’s not like we couldn’t get shots. The guys were hesitant to take them. Sometimes, we were taking them and they weren’t falling. But we looked to me like a team where nobody wanted to shoot and that’s on me.”

Bryant's Brantley Cozart launches a shot over Benton's Eddie Poland (31). (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

The Hornets out-rebounded the Panthers 32-27, led by Quinton Motto’s 10. Brantley Cozart and former Panther Jordan Griffin each had 8 points to lead the team in scoring.

Benton was paced by former Hornet Tyler Gattin’s 12 and Luke Vance’s 10.

Bryant’s lone lead came at the start when Motto made a nice feed to Eric Moore for a layup to burn the Panthers’ man defense.

Benton scored the next 7 points starting with a 3 by Gattin but it took nearly the rest of the first quarter to get them. A free throw by Griffin in the final minute made it 7-3 going into the second period.

Cozart drained a trey to start the scoring in the new quarter, pulling the Hornets within 7-6. But that was the last field goal for the Hornets until Motto hit a baseline jumper with 3:03 left in the third quarter.

Still, Bryant only trailed 14-7 at the half. It was 22-9 when Motto ended the dry spell.

“I’ll give Benton the credit,” Abrahamson said after the game. “They’re a strong defensive team. But I also think that I have made my team a passive team on offense instead of an aggressive team. And I’ll take the blame for that.

Zach Cambron (44) looks for a lane. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

“I think that we catch the ball and we hold it and we look and we stare,” he elaborated. “It’s just so slow. We’re not catching and scanning the floor and moving it on to the next spot fast enough. Everything is just one thing at a time. Catch, look, very mechanical, robotic.

“We’re not to the point where we’re just playing and we can see things developing,” the coach continued. “We can’t see anything on offense before it happens. We can’t see a screen being set and the cutter — we should be able to see if he’s going to be open before he’s open. We see he’s open then by the time it gets processed, he’s not open and we just end up throwing it around the perimeter. I hope it comes soon. It’s my responsibility to get it to come soon and I’m committed to making it happen.

“In a nutshell, I’ve got to do a better job of making them feel confident and loose and more reactive than robotic. I’ll certainly take the blame for that.”

Free throws by Griffin and Leon Neale, who grabbed the carom off Griffin’s missed second shot, started the Bryant rally. Cozart hit a pair and, moments later, Aaron Bell canned a jumper in the lane.

Bell, Josh Hampton and Tyler Brown made their debuts in the game after joining the team with the end of the football season.

Head coach Mike Abrahamson discusses a call with one of the officials. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

With the lead trimmed to 27-16, Benton’s Eddie Poland hit a free throw and, after a Bryant turnover, scored inside to make it 30-16.

But Neale hit another free throw and Griffin made a steal that led to another baseline jay by Motto. Nate Griffin converted a pair of free throws for the Panthers but when Jordan Griffin answered with a 3, the lead was down to 10 with 2:35 left.

Nat Griffin misfired and the Hornets had two chances to cut it further. Neale couldn’t get a 3-point shot from the corner to go but he tracked down the rebound and got another shot only to have it rim out.

Benton’s Trey Davis missed a pair from the line to keep Bryant’s hopes alive and Kyle Nossaman got a look at a 3 for the Hornets. But it refused to fall.

After a timeout, Davis hit a driving jumper to get Benton back on track. Nate Griffin missed two free throws but, much to the Hornets’ frustration, Poland rebounded for the Panthers and Gattin was fouled with :44.5 to go. He converted once to make it 35-22.

Cozart answered with a 3 to trim it to 10 again. Gattin added two more free throws and Jordan Griffin drove for a bucket to make it 37-27 but that was the last of Bryant’s scoring. Davis added three free throws on two trips inside the final 20 seconds to set the final score.

Now 0-2, the Hornets will get another shot at the Panthers to open the Searcy Bank Invitational Tournament when they return to action on Dec. 2.


Score by quarters

Benton 7 7 10 16 — 40

BRYANT 3 4 3 17 — 27 


Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts


N.Griffin 1-5 4-7 3-4 7 1 6

Caffrey 1-1 0-0 0-0 0 1 2

Gattin 3-8 3-4 0-1 1 4 12

Gardner 0-2 0-0 1-4 5 3 0

Vance 4-8 2-4 2-2 4 4 10

Davis 1-1 3-6 1-3 4 4 5

Poland 2-4 1-3 1-0 1 0 5

N.Garner 0-3 0-0 0-1 1 0 0

Stuckey 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0

Team 2-2 4 

Totals 12-32 13-24 10-17 27 17 40


Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts


J.Griffin 2-9 3-6 0-3 3 4 8

Nossaman 0-3 0-0 0-0 0 1 0

H.Garner 0-3 0-0 0-2 2 0 0

Moore 1-1 0-0 2-1 3 1 2

Motto 2-7 0-0 2-8 10 2 4

Cambron 0-0 0-2 2-0 2 1 0

Cozart 2-4 2-3 0-2 2 4 8

Brown 0-0 0-0 0-1 1 0 0

Hampton 0-1 1-2 0-0 0 1 1

Bell 1-3 0-0 0-0 0 4 2

Neale 0-2 2-4 2-2 4 3 2

Team 4-1 5

Totals 8-33 8-17 12-20 32 21 27

Three-point field goals: Bryant 3-18 (Cozart 2-4, J.Griffin 1-7, Nossaman 0-3, H.Garner 0-2, Bell 0-1, Neale 0-1), Benton 3-11 (Gattin 3-8, N.Griffin 0-1, Poland 0-1, N.Garner 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 16, Benton 10.

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