In what seemed like a slow-motion thumping, the Bryant Hornets gradually pulled away from the rival Benton Panthers on Tuesday night as they opened the new Hornets Arena with a 54-39 victory in the annual Saline County Shootout.
“They’re a methodical team,” acknowledged Hornets head coach Mike Abrahamson of the Panthers, “and we were playing good defense, which, at times, makes the game even slower. We’ve seen that in the past. That’s not what we wanted but it’s what happened. It’s a credit to our defense but (Benton) stayed patient so give credit to them.”
Indeed, Benton scored just 3 points in the first quarter, attempting only five shots from the field and two free throws.
The Hornets only trailed for a few seconds, 2-1. They then went on a 13-1 run to close out the opening quarter.
Junior guard Camren Hunter scored 8 of his game-high 16 points during that surge. He had the Hornets’ first free throw in the new arena, the first 3-pointer and, later, the first 2-pointer on an offensive rebound basket.
A.J. Jenkins added a pair of 3’s including a buzzer beater on his way to 12 points in the game. Treylon Payne added 10 points, all in the second half. Austin Schroeder gave the Hornets a lift off the bench with 8 points including a 3 to end the first half. Catrell Wallace scored 6.
For Benton, Cameron Harris finished with 10, Colton Phillips 8 and Jaden Nash 7.
“For the most part, I like what we did on offense,” said Abrahamson. “The pace of the game was a little slow but there was a stretch in the second quarter where we were just shooting 3’s. That’s what they were giving us, but we want to be an inside-out team. That doesn’t mean we have to shoot inside shots all the time. We’re going to shoot our fair share of 3’s. That’s how we’re going to play. But it’s how we get those 3’s is what we’re concerned with.”
The Hornets hit seven triples for the game. While the Hornets were going 1 for 5 from distance in the second period, Benton was able to trim the lead to 7. Phillips opened the second quarter with a basket to make it 14-5. Wallace answered on the other end then Russ Hooks knocked down a jumper and followed with a pair of free throws to get the Panthers within 16-9.
Hunter fed Devin Pitts for a basket inside, but Phillips answered for Benton with 2:49 left in the half.
Hunter’s driving layup and Schroeder’s trey with :18 left made it 23-12 at the intermission.
Phillips got the Panthers off to a strong start in the third quarter with a three-point play but Hunter banked in a 12-foot jay and, moments later, followed his own miss to bump the lead back to 12.
With was 29-18 before Payne found the range on a 3. Jenkins made a steal and a layup and, after Jaylen Bell scored for Benton, Payne popped a triple to make it a 17-point advantage.
Free throws from Nash and Harris helped Benton stay within range.
It was 39-26 going into the final moments of the third quarter. The Hornets missed a shot with about 10 seconds left but Schroeder tipped the carom to Payne, who got to the rim for a basket that made it 41-26 going into the final eight minutes.
“It picked up a little in the second half,” Abrahamson said of the pace, “because they were down, and their strategy was to put their head down and get to the rim and dare us to stop them.”
Schroeder opened the fourth with his second 3 and, off a held ball, he got to the free-throw line where he converted twice to push the lead to 20.
After Phillips connected from the stripe, Hunter scored and with 3:56 left, the Hornets had their largest lead at 48-27.
With 3’s by Gabe George and Nash, the Panthers narrowed the gap to 13 in the late stages of the game but could get no closer.”
The slower pace may wind up helping the Hornets as they open 6A-Central Conference play on Friday at Fort Smith Northside in a rematch of the State finals last spring. The Grizzlies came be a deliberate team as well.
“Since we got our football guys, up until the end of the King Cotton Classic, we had more games than practices with them,” said Abrahamson. “Then we had a three-day Christmas dead period, which turned into a four-day because one of them ended up being a Sunday. We just haven’t been able to practice and really get this team playing together and practicing together with everybody on the same page.
“Since the King Cotton was over, we’ve been able to have four or five practices where we were kind of able to re-center, it seemed like,” he continued. “That’s what I wanted to do. It did seem better tonight. We fouled too much still. But the defense seemed better and the offense seemed to be — at least we were on the same page.
“I’m pleased,” the coach concluded. “It’s progress. It’s not where we want to be in the end, but it was better. I’m proud of their effort.”
HORNETS 54, PANTHERS 39
Score by quarters
Benton 3 9 14 13 — 39
BRYANT 14 9 18 13 — 54
PANTHERS (9-3) 39
Harris 3-7 4-4 10, Hilkert 0-1 0-0 0, Phillips 3-5 2-3 8, Bell 1-2 1-2 3, Cox 0-3 1-2 1, Hooks 1-1 2-2 4, George 1-6 1-2 4, Green 0-1 0-2 0, Ramsey 0-1 0-0 0, Nash 2-2 2-2 7, K.Payne 0-2 2-2 2. Totals 11-31 (35%) 15-21 (71%) 39.
HORNETS (8-5) 54
Hunter 6-10 3-4 16, T.Payne 4-12 0-1 10, Jenkins 4-8 2-2 12, Wallace 3-6 0-2 6, Diggins 0-0 0-0 0, Adams 0-3 0-2 0, Robinson 0-22 0-0 0, Pitts 1-1 0-0 2, Schroeder 2-2 2-2 8. Totals 20-44 (45%) 7-13 (54%) 54.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 7-21 (T.Payne 2-8, Jenkins 2-4, Schroeder 2-2, Hunter 1-2, Adams 0-3, Robinson 0-2), Benton 2-6 (George 1-1, Nash 1-1, Harris 0-1, Hilkert 0-1, Green 0-1, Ramsey 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 12, Benton 20. Rebounds: Bryant 11-12 23 (Hunter 2-2 4, Wallace 2-2 4, T.Payne 3-1 4, Jenkins 1-2 3, Adams 0-2 2, Robinson 0-1 1, Schroeder 0-1 1, team 3-1 4), Benton 10-17 27 (Harris 2-4 6, Phillips 1-3 4, George 1-3 4, Hooks 0-3 3, Hilkert 0-2 2, Nash 2-0 2, K.Payne 2-0 2, Bell 0-1 1, team 1-0 1). Team fouls: Bryant 19, Benton 21. Fouled out: Bryant, T.Payne; Benton, Hilkert.