Hornets surge to sweet win at Benton
EDITOR’S NOTE: Because the look back at each day in Bryant athletic history has been so favorably received during the time when there was no sports during the COVID-19 shutdown, BryantDaily.com will continueposting past stories of Bryant athletics either posted on BryantDaily.com (from 2009 to the present) or published in the Bryant Times (from 1998 to 2008).
By ROB PATRICK
BENTON — It’s hard to imagine that anyone with roots in Benton could want to beat the Benton Panthers basketball team as much as or more than the Bryant Hornets basketball team. But that might be said of the Hornets’ young coaching duo, head coach Mark Smith and assistant Chad Withers.
And anybody that’s familiar with the Bryant-Benton rivalry know that is saying plenty. The Hornets ache to beat the Panthers in anything. And vice versa, of course.
But both Smith and Withers played at Benton and Smith, until this season, had coached the Benton Junior High team, including about all of the players that made up the Panthers squad his Hornets were contending with on Friday, Dec. 20, at the Benton High School gym.
Add to that, the fact that the Panthers had handed Smith his first loss as a high school head coach on a last-second shot at Bryant on Nov. 26 and you can understand why he and Withers couldn’t hold back their smiles after the Hornets got the Panthers back, 47-39, on their court.
It was Bryant’s fifth win in the last six games. The Hornets improved to 7-3 going into the Christmas break. They were scheduled to return to action at home on Jan. 3, against Pulaski Robinson. Benton dropped to 5-2.
“That was big,” Smith allowed, “especially how we lost over at Bryant and the fashion that we lost. You know, I kind of had visions of it happening again.”
Indeed, the Hornets led the entire game again but saw their advantage, which was as much as 11, slip away in the fourth quarter. Benton went on a 9-0 run capped by an offensive-rebound basket by Chad Dawson with 2:39 left in the game, tying it at 35.
“I thought to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re unraveling at the seams,’” Smith said. “But we regained our composure. We did a real good job of coming back and not just totally folding. We let our guard down and Benton did a good job of getting back into the game. And really, I guess, it tested our fortitude and our character. They did a good job of answering the bell again.”
It didn’t take long after Dawson tied it for the Hornets to respond, either. Slicing through the Benton press, post man Benny Elder took a pass near midcourt, turned and found Dwayne Chumley who drove to the hoop, scored and was fouled. And when Chumley converted the free throw, Bryant was not only ahead once more, it was for good.
Benton’s Jonathan Bechtel — he of the game-winning last-second shot at Bryant — posted up for an answering basket but, moments later, he committed his fourth foul as Elder grabbed an offensive board. Elder came through with the two clutch free throws to make it 40-37 with 1:51 to go.
Momentum swung back the other way when Jaston Carter, the Hornets’ leading scorer, fouled out trying to take a charge as Dawson drove to the hoop at the other end. Dawson converted twice to make it a 1-point game but, again, Chumley stepped up for Bryant.
This time, he came through with one of his six assists in the game, whipping a pass to Nick Dorsey for a layup and a 42-39 lead.
In turn, Zach Richard misfired on a 3-point try and Bryant guard Drew Devasher somehow hauled down the rebound. Devasher wound up being the Hornets’ leading rebounder, in fact, with a season-high eight.
His seventh led to a layup by Elder as the Hornets continued to carve up the Benton press. The Panthers were unable to right themselves even with a timeout at that point. Bechtel missed a 3-point try and, again, Elder was free on the other end for a game-clinching layup.
Fittingly, Devasher finished the scoring when he hit a free throw with :05.1 left to play. He had been fouled pulling down his final rebound.
Smith credited Withers with a key move late in the game. “He made a great call to go to the triangle-and-two,” Smith said, referring to the defense of playing man-to-man against Bechtel and point guard Brooks Livers, Benton’s top scorers, while the other three defenders played a triangle-shaped zone. “I wasn’t thinking about it but we’d practiced it all week. I was going to start the game with it. But Chad talked me out of it and said, ‘Let’s save it.’ We went to it in the last minute.
“When you’ve got shooters like Brooks and Jonathan, you’ve got to cover them up,” Smith explained. “At the same time, you’ve got to respect their drive. We felt like they were going to designate a play for them at that timeout because those are the two guys that have kind of brought you.
“Like I said, it was a great call by Coach Withers because unless you’re really prepared for a triangle-and-two, you’re not real sure of what to run against it. I think it kind of caught them off guard. And our guys stepped up. The guys that played man did a great job. I thought B.J. (Wood) and Drew played awfully hard on defense and Dwayne did a good job defensively too.”
Elder and Carter led the Hornets offensively with 13 points each. Chumley had 12.
Wood went scoreless for Bryant but played a big role, along with Devasher, in keeping Livers under wraps. Livers finished with just 6 points, converting just 1 of 14 field goal tries in the game.
The Hornets started the game much the way they would end it. Carter set up easy hoops for Elder and Chumley, then Chumley fed Elder for a layup. The 6-0 start forced a Benton timeout.
The Panthers got on track with a couple of baskets but then the Hornets were off on a 12-3 blitz that was highlighted by Carter raining 3’s on the Panthers. He hit two on consecutive trips late in the first quarter (which ended with Bryant up 15-7) then another to start the second period, making it 18-7.
Bryant led 22-15 at the half but when Devasher hit a free throw (after collecting an offensive rebound) and Chumley flashed to rebound his missed second shot and score, the lead was back to 10.
Richard hit a 3 but Carter found Devasher open on a back cut inside. Devasher was fouled and hit a free throw and, moments later, Carter took advantage of a Benton turnover for a one-handed dunk and a 28-18 lead with 5:22 left in the quarter.
But that was the last Bryant would score in the period. Chumley appeared to have a layup after Bechtel had scored but he decided to set up his buddy Carter for another dunk, bouncing the ball off the backboard with Carter trailing. But Benton had a player back and messed up the play. To top it off, Carter was whistled for his fourth foul on the play.
Smith pulled both of his seniors and Benton seized the momentum to pull within 28-24 by the end of the period.
But Chumley returned to start the fourth quarter with a cold-blooded 3-pointer. After a Benton miss, he laced a feed to Elder for a basket and Benton had to have a timeout, trailing 33-24.
The Panthers tying rally came soon after.