By Rob Patrick
Photos by Kevin Nagle
BENTON — Drive and dish.
It took a while but when the Bryant Hornets freshman basketball team eventually figured out a way to penetrate the gaps in the Benton Panthers’ tough zone defense, good things started happening.
Despite trailing all game long and by as much as 9 points in the second half, the Hornets came back to forge a thrilling 42-39 win over their rivals in the 7A/6A-Central Conference opener for both teams Thursday night.
The Hornets’ first lead came with :44 left in the game when Greyson Giles drove and dished to Mitch Scoggins for a short jumper that made it 38-37.
With :27 left, Benton regained the lead on a basket by Tarek Beaugard who was also fouled on the play. But Beaugard was unable to complete the three-point play and, with :18 to go, Madre London found a seam, drove the lane, drew the defense and dished to Scoggins for another short jumper that gave the[more] Hornets a 40-39 edge.
The Hornets forced a turnover with :08.6 left and, after a Panthers’ timeout, C.J. Rainey stepped to the line and drilled two free throws to set the final score.
Benton got a look at a 3 in an attempt to tie it at the buzzer but Beaugard’s shot was off line and the Hornets had held on for the win.
The Bryant team includes Phillip Barnett, Dakota Besancon, Chase Christie, Brandon Cranford, Cedarrian Crosby, Evan Davis, Trevor Ezell, Greyson Giles, T.J. Hall, Austin Hammonds, Hunter Holder, Matt Jernigan, Spencer Kilgore, Slade Lewis, Madre London, Dylan Masters, Davis Nossaman, Gray Orman, Garrett Phillips, C.J. Rainey, Brian Reed, Mitchell Scoggins and Caleb Strain.
“It’s my fifth year here and I believe that was the first time we’ve beat Benton here,” related Hornets coach Steve Wilson, referring to Panther Arena. “There’s a lot to overcome. The thing I’m proud of — you know, with us, it’s just a matter of playing with some intensity and with some fire. We searched for that in the first half and had it at times. The second half, we found it and poured gas on it.”
It was a team win for the Hornets who were led by Giles and Rainey with 9 points each. In all, eight players contributed to the scoring.
London, despite just 3 points, played one of his best games with a game-high seven rebounds and a number of assists. He was the first of the Hornets to find the avenues to penetrate.
Scoggins, who finished with 6 points, started the game but came out for a breather and didn’t get back into the game until that final minute. That was because of the play of Reed who came off the bench in his stead and scored 8 points with four rebounds as a target for the drive-and-dish work of London, Giles and Rainey. Reed fouled out with :55 left and Scoggins came in to get those last two clutch baskets that helped put the Hornets over the top.
Strain added 5 points including a 3 at a key moment in the second quarter and Gray Orman played well off the bench including his second-quarter layup off a feed from Rainey.
That basket had the Hornets within 6-4 but when Benton’s Blake Bowlin beat the buzzer with the second of his four 3-pointers in the game, the Panthers led 9-4.
Bowlin led all scorers with 13 points. Kenton Polk added 10 off the bench and Zack Smiley 6.
Benton had pushed the lead to 15-8 going into the final minute when Strain stepped up at the top of the key to nail his trey and end a three-minute dry spell for the Hornets.
Still, behind free throws by Samonte Wallace and a stickback by Beaugard in the final seconds, Benton held a 19-11 lead.
Giles opened the second half scoring but Bowlin answered with a 3 to make it 22-13, Benton’s largest lead.
London fed Scoggins for a basket to start Bryant’s initial comeback. After Polk hit a layup, Rainey fed Strain for a bucket. Beaugard misfired and Reed crashed the offensive boards for a basket.
Benton called a timeout but, back on the court, Bowlin’s shot rimmed out and Reed was fouled after a feed inside from Rainey. He converted once to make it 24-20. Polk scored but Giles flushed a triple and the Hornets were within 3 with 1:52 left in the third quarter.
But the Panthers wouldn’t relinquish the lead. They pushed it to 30-23 before Rainey scored to make it a 5-point game going into the final six minutes.
Reed hit a free throw to start the fourth quarter scoring. He missed his second but Giles managed to rebound it and score to trim the margin 2.
Smiley’s layup and a jumper by Polk kept the Panthers ahead, however, before Rainey buried a trey and, after Bowlin missed from long range, London drove, scored and was fouled. His free throw tied the game at 34.
But, still, the Hornets were unable to get over the top. Bowlin dropped a 3 to keep the Panthers up. Reed answered with a stickback and when Rainey made a steal, the Hornets had a chance to gain the advantage as Reed was sent to the line again. But when his first shot failed to fall, Benton rebounded and took a timeout to set up its delay game.
The Hornets had fouls to give and they took them before Benton’s Luke Vincent fired a shot and missed. Garrett King rebounded for the Panthers, however, and, with 1:07 left, Beaugard was fouled. He missed the front end and Bryant had another chance to tie the game only to have Giles’ shot miss.
Beaugard was fouled again with :55 to go as Reed picked up his fifth foul. Scoggins came in and Beaugard missed the front end, setting the stage for the dramatic finish.
“We were just more intense all the way around,” said Wilson of his team’s second-half play. “I thought we attacked the defense a little bit better and made passes at the right time when we did penetrate. And we kind of picked up our defense too and scored some off that.
“I’m not sure, as far as X’s and O’s, where the answer is with us,” he concluded. “I think our answer is on our toes and with bent knees. If we can do that, I think we can play with anybody we’ve got coming up.”
The Hornets shot 17 of 31 from the field (55 percent) including 12 of 19 (63 percent) in the second half.
HORNETS 42, PANTHERS 39
Score by quarters
BRYANT 4 7 14 17 — 42
Benton 9 10 11 9 — 39
Rainey 3-8 2-2 9, Strain 2-4 0-0 5, Giles 4-10 0-0 9, London 1-1 1-1 3, Scoggins 3-3 0-2 6, Orman 1-1 0-0 2, Reed 3-3 2-4 8, Ezell 0-1 0-0 0, Crosby 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-31 5-9 42.
Vincent 2-5 0-0 4, King 0-2 0-0 0, Sanchez 0-1 0-0 0, Beaugard 2-6 0-3 4, Bowlin 4-11 1-1 13, Polk 5-6 0-0 13, Polk 5-6 0-0 10, Smiley 3-5 0-0 6, Wallace 0-0 2-2 2. Totals 16-36 3-6 39.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 3-7 (Giles 1-4, Rainey 1-2, Strain 1-1), Benton 4-11 (Bowlin 4-8, Beaugard 0-2, Polk 0-1). Rebounds: Bryant 20 (London 7, Reed 4), Benton 18 (King, Beaugard 5). Turnovers: Bryant 8, Benton 8. Team fouls: Bryant 12, Benton 13. Fouled out: Bryant, Reed.