Lady Hornets finish strong: Free throws key to win over 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 continue posting 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 — The Benton Lady Panthers were determined not to let Bekka Middleton beat them Tuesday night when the Bryant Lady Hornets visited Cook Fieldhouse for the finale of the regular season.
And Middleton only managed three field goals as the Lady Panthers double- and triple-teamed her.
Still, by converting 14 of 16 free throws including 10 in a row and six in the final 1:10, Middleton finished with 20 points and 16 rebounds to lead Bryant to a 58-54 win.
Bryant, the fourth seed from the AAAAA-South Conference, will take an 18-10 record into the Class AAAAA State Tournament which will be held at the Pine Bluff Convention Center starting Tuesday, Feb. 29. The Lady Hornets, who finished 9-5 in league play, will play in the opening game of the tourney against the top seed from the AAAAA-West, probably defending State champion Fort Smith Northside at 1 p.m.
Against Benton, Middleton may not have had such a big night if point guard Joanie Robideaux hadn’t stepped it up offensively in the fourth quarter. Bryant led 41-32 when Middleton scored off a nice spin move in the lane with :27 left in the third quarter but, led by senior post LaSharon Reed, Benton surged back to within 41-37 as the final period unfolded. The Lady Hornets were struggling to get shots, trying unsuccessfully to force the ball in to Middleton in the post.
In four possessions, Bryant turned the ball over three times as Benton rallied. Robideaux then took it on herself. With 6:36 left, she drove into the lane and hit a short jumper to snap her team’s dryspell.
Still, Reed scored off the offensive glass and Alisha Standridge hit a free throw to trim the margin to 3.
Again Robideaux drove to the basket and this time she drew a foul. She hit her first shot to make it 44-40 then came back with a steal that led to a baseline jumper with 5:15 left.
That was Bryant’s final field goal of the game but they performed so well at the free-throw line, they were able to hold off the Lady Panthers for the win. For the game, the Lady Hornets converted 23 of 30 at the line. It was the difference. Benton finished 18 of 29.
The Lady Panthers had pulled back to 46-43 when, again, Robideaux made a drive that got her to the free-throw line. She converted twice as she completed a run of 7 straight points for the Lady Hornets.
Heather Atkins and Tiffany Kennedy added free throws along the way but relentlessly, Benton kept the pressure on and the margin was eventually whittled to 51-50 after a baseline jumper by Frannie Whipple with 1:18 left in the game.
But Middleton drove the baseline at the other end and was fouled, starting her 6-for-6 performance at the line in the final 1:10.
Leading 53-50, the Lady Hornets forced a Benton turnover and Meagan Clancy was fouled. She converted once.
Two free throws by Shelli Warford with :28 left kept Benton’s hopes alive, cutting the margin to 2 but, three seconds later, Middleton was at the line again, converting twice more.
The Lady Hornets jumped into a press and Atkins made a steal. She was fouled with :20 showing only to miss twice.
But Benton couldn’t get a shot to go after that until Reed scored with :05 showing. The Lady Hornets didn’t even have to inbound the ball with so little time left but the Lady Panthers called a timeout when they didn’t have one left, resulting in a technical foul with :00.7 on the clock.
Middleton went to the line and converted two more free throws and Bryant was awarded the ball, securing the final outcome.
Robideaux finished with 10 points for Bryant and Candice Croy and Clancy added 7 including a pair of 3-pointers apiece.
For Benton, Reed finished with 22 points. Rachel Poe had 10.
Bryant had jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the early going but Benton surged to 12-9 advantage. The game was tied at 15 going into the second quarter.
Benton edged ahead late in the second quarter, putting together a 9-4 run that produced a 26-23 halftime lead.
But Croy hit a 3 to start the second half and Bryant never trailed again. The game was tied at 28 but a baseline jumper by Atkins at the 5:14 mark put the Lady Hornets ahead for good.
Bryant outscored Benton 11-5 the rest of the quarter. Middleton went 7 for 8 at the free-throw line in the period and Atkins and Kennedy added baskets as the lead ballooned to 41-33 going into the final quarter.