As a starter since he was a sophomore, Kevin Hunt was playing in his third and final Saline County Shootout against the rival Benton Panthers Tuesday night at the Hornets Nest. For him and fellow seniors Jordan Walker, Detavious Moore and Rickie Allen, it was the last chance to hoist that trophy, something they had yet to accomplish.
So it was with some relish that Hunt cradled the trophy in his arms when it was awarded them following a highly entertaining, feverishly contested 54-53 win over the Panthers.
“Nobody in that locker room, none of these players have won this trophy before,” acknowledged Bryant coach Mike Abrahamson after the game. “It’s special to them. It was special to Kevin.”
Hunt led Bryant with 15 points including some clutch plays down the stretch. Romen Martin added 13 including two huge free throws with :07 left.
Benton’s Clay Anderson scored 20 and Jake Scoggins had 13. Anderson gave his team a chance when, moments after Scoggins had cut the Bryant lead to 52-50 with two free throws at the :21.7 mark, he made a steal. He attacked the basket but, unlike many other such opportunities throughout the game, he couldn’t get a shot to go down.
Lowell Washington rebounded for Bryant and with :07 left, Martin was fouled. His shots made it a two-possession game so when Scoggins hit a 3 at the buzzer, it was too little, too late.
Anderson had tied the game at 44 with 3:29 left. Hunt snapped the deadlock by converting both ends of a one-and-one. Shaheed Halk couldn’t get a running jumper to fall for the Panthers. Marvin Moody rebounded and, after working their offense, Martin and Hunt worked a nice give-and-go for a layup by Hunt that made it 48-44.
Anderson answered at the 2:05 mark as the Hornets struggled to stop his penetration. Bryant turned the ball over at 1:30 and Anderson was fouled. With a chance to tie it, however, he hit his first shot but when his second rimmed out, Bryant had the ball and continued to lead.
With :54 showing, Martin worked a give-and-go with Washington for a big three-point play that, once again, made it a two-possession game, 51-47.
“That was great execution of our offense against the half-court trap,” noted Abrahamson. “We were trying to keep it in our guards’ hands, break that pressure, get it to them and let them make plays. It only ended up happening a couple of times.
“We ended up burning some clock but that wasn’t necessarily our objective,” he mentioned. “If they were going to come after us, we were going to attack them. But it was just kind of a standoff at times, which actually didn’t help us. When we just kind of stood there, then we couldn’t get the cuts and passes we wanted. We called timeout and made some adjustments and we got two scores out of it after that.”
When Cason Maertens missed a forced 3 and Moody gathered to carom, Bryant was in position to seal the win.
Hornets’ point guard Calvin Allen and Benton’s Westin Riddick traded free throws then, with :29.8 to go, Allen went to the line again. This time, however, both of his shots refused to go down.
Anderson misfired on a 3-point try but Scoggins rebounded and was fouled, hitting the two shots with :21.7 to go that cut it to 2.
“We made some big plays but we had some bonehead plays too,” Abrahamson said. “We couldn’t finish it out with our free throws, a couple of turnovers and a 3-pointer in the corner that we didn’t need. But it’s just a process that we’re still working through.”
Benton finished with seven 3-pointer in the game but four of those came in the first quarter when the Panthers surged to a 21-13 lead after falling behind 10-3. Halk and Riddick drilled back-to-back triples to spark the 18-3 blitz. Maertens drove for a basket then Scoggins’ 3 found twine.
Hunt interrupted with a nice bucket off an inbounds play from Allen, the first of his eight assists. But Maertens canned a 3 and, after Allen fed Braylon Steen for a basket, Anderson scored back-to-back buckets in the final minute to give the Panthers the 8-point edge.
The margin grew to 10 in the second quarter. The Hornets, sparked by a 3 from Moore and a three-point play by Steen off another feed from Allen, trimmed it to 4. It was 29-24 at the break.
Bryant was that close despite having five players on the bench with fouls including Hunt, Washington and Moody.
“Man, except for the very beginning of the game, the first quarter, it seemed like everything that could go wrong did go wrong,” Abrahamson said. “(Benton) was making shots, taking us off the dribble. It was rough and it looked like it could be a long night.
“But our kids, they’d get down, I’d challenge them and they’d respond,” he related. “They kept responding. I was tempted to call a timeout in the first quarter but I didn’t and I’m glad because all I would’ve done is be angry and vent. I didn’t call it and we had (timeouts) at the end.
“I thought we had a great halftime and they responded so well in the third quarter,” the coach said. “Then we had a few bumps, more adversity — just the ebb and flow of the game — but every time there was the challenge to respond, they did.”
Martin drilled a pair of 3’s in the early minutes of the second half as the Hornets surged to a 33-32 lead. Hunt added a basket off a drive and it looked like Bryant might take control of the game.
The two teams scrapped over the next two minutes before Maertens hit a clutch 3 to tie it back up. Moore scored inside off a feed from Allen but Halk answered and the game was knotted at 37 going into the final eight minutes.
Halk snapped the tie with a drive to open the fourth quarter but Martin knocked down a 3 to put the Hornets back on top. Allen made a steal and hit a free throw but in quick succession Hunt and Moody picked up their fourth fouls, respectively.
On the second, Anderson went to the line but missed the front end of the bonus chance. At the 5:53 mark, Moody found Washington open in the right corner and the big man drained a 3, giving Bryant its largest lead, 44-39. Washington made a steal too but a Hornet turnover followed and Anderson knocked down a 3.
After Bryant’s timeout at the 4:17 mark, an ill-advised 3 rimmed out and Anderson drove for the tying bucket, setting up the final 3:30.
The win not only garnered the Shootout trophy for the Hornets but completed a season sweep against their rivals. To open the season, they won 58-55 at Benton.
The Hornets improved to 10-3 on the season with the victory. They open 7A/6A-Central Conference play against 6A foe Greenwood this Friday at home.
HORNETS 54, PANTHERS 53
Score by quarters
Benton 21 8 8 16 — 53
BRYANT 13 11 13 17 — 54
PANTHERS (8-4) 53
Anderson 8-14 3-7 20, Maertens 3-6 1-2 9, Halk 3-6 0-0 7, Riddick 1-5 1-2 4, Scoggins 3-4 5-7 13, Peters 0-1 0-0 0, Hammond 0-1 0-0 0, Harris 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-37 (49%) 10-18 (56%) 53.
HORNETS (10-3) 54
Allen 1-4 5-11 7, Hunt 5-7 4-5 15, Moody 0-3 0-0 0, Washington 3-4 1-1 8, Martin 3-7 4-4 13, Steen 2-4 2-5 6, Moore 2-6 0-0 5, Sahr 0-0 0-0 0, Walker 0-1 0-0 0, Cowart 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-36 (44%) 16-26 (62%) 54.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 6-17 (Martin 3-6, Moore 1-3, Hunt 1-1, Washington 1-1, Allen 0-2, Moody 0-2, Steen 0-1, Walker 0-1), Benton 7-18 (Maertens 2-4, Scoggins 2-3, Riddick 1-5, Anderson 1-3, Halk 1-2, Hammond 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 11, Benton 13. Rebounds: Bryant 6-20 26 (Hunt 2-4 6, Moody 1-4 5, Allen 1-2 3, Washington 0-3 3, Steen 1-2 3, Moore 0-2 2, Martin 1-0 1, Walker 1-0, team 0-2 2), Benton 7-20 27 (Anderson 2-6 8, Scoggins 1-3 4, Maertens 0-3 3, Riddick 0-3 3, Halk 0-2 2, Peters 1-1 2, team 3-2 5). Team fouls: Bryant 21, Benton 22.