Benton’s early success doesn’t hold up either
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
About a third of the way through the second quarter against their arch-rivals, the Bryant Hornets found themselves trailing the Benton Panthers by 10. Torey Shelnut had just buried the second of his four 3-pointers in the game and the Panthers and their fans were charged up. They could smell victory, even a blowout perhaps, of the Hornets, who came into the game tied atop the AAAAA-South Conference.
But it didn’t last. The surging Hornets, who had upended first-place teams in each of their two prior games, put together a 19-3 run to end the first half and eventually turned that 10-point deficit into a 15-point lead — a 25-point swing — on the way to a 69-60 victory at the Bryant gym on Friday, Jan. 25.
The victory kept the Hornets in first place as the conference season reached the halfway point. At 5-2, the Hornets were tied with El Dorado, Camden Fairview and Pine Bluff atop the league. They’re 12-7 overall.
Benton fell to 2-5 and 6-11.
“When we were down 10, the main thing we told them was just, ‘Hey, they’re just shooting lights out. Let’s just hang in there the rest of the half and try to be ahead at the half if we can,’” recalled Bryant head coach Leo Olberts. “We switched from a match-up and some man (on defense) to a 1-3-1 zone and stayed with it pretty much the rest of the game. That was a big key. We were able to get out on (their 3-point shooters) a little bit better.”
The Panthers connected on seven 3’s in the game but it wasn’t enough.
“When you play somebody like Benton, we knew they were going to really be ready to play,” Olberts said. “I wasn’t really surprised to see them come out the way they did. I was just tickled to death to see us hang on and be ahead at the half. In the third and fourth quarters, I thought it’d be a little more nip-and-tuck than it was. Give Benton a lot of credit. They’re going to win a lot of ballgames.
“To be 5-2 after the first round is great,” Olberts added. “Of course, we’ve still got a lot of basketball to play. Tuesday night’s a big one for us, going to Sheridan. We’ve just got to take them one at a time. We’ve tried not to really look down the road. We’ll enjoy this for an hour or so then we’ll start thinking about Sheridan.”
Junior Jaston Carter pumped in 22 points including a steal and slam dunk — his second in as many home games. He also knocked down a pair of 3-pointers. Senior Josh Ridge scored 17 points, senior Jeremy Reeves added 12 including 8 of 8 free throws and junior Dwayne Chumley had 10. As a team, the Hornets connected on 20 of 22 free throws.
“Our guys, I can’t say enough good things about them,” Olberts emphasized. “We were dynamite at the free-throw line. I thought late in the game when we were trying to milk the clock and at the same time look for a basket, we did a good job. Several times we came down, took 40 seconds off the clock and got layups and that’s what we were looking for.”
The Hornets seemed to have an answer for every basket Benton made down the stretch. The Panthers, after scoring just 8 points in the second quarter, scored 21 in the final period but could make up little ground with that. They could get no closer than 8 points down.
Early, the Panthers gained the upper hand with balanced scoring. They led 11-9 with 2:26 left in the first quarter then put together a 12-4 surge to built their 10-point advantage.
Bryant’s rally began with an nice baseline drive for a layup by Ridge. After Benton’s Brandon Peck missed a 3-pointer, Ridge got another layup off a dish from Scott Yant.
Suddenly, Benton couldn’t get a shot to go down and the Hornets starting dominating the boards.
The Hornets forced a Benton turnover and Carter cashed in with a trey to make it a one-point game. Benton called a timeout, but it didn’t stop the bleeding. Ridge popped a 12-footer to put his team ahead.
Shelnut finally broke a three-minute-plus drought for the Panthers with his third triple, but Ridge drove the baseline to tie it, then took a charge to give the Hornets a chance to regain the lead. Two free throws by Benny Elder with 1:31 to go in the half, snapped the deadlock The Hornets never trailed again.
They led 32-26 at the half.
Shelnut scored the first bucket of the second half but Ridge got a 3 to splash and Carter made his steal and slam to make it 37-28.
Later, Chumley grabbed the rebound off a Benton miss and went coast to coast. He was fouled as he hit his driving scoop shot and his free throw gave Bryant its first double-digit advantage. Carter added a stickback to give Bryant a 44-30 lead.
Benton rallied behind some suddenly hot shooting from Brooks Livers to get the lead down to 9, but when Reeves fed Elder for a bucket in the closing moments of the period, the Hornets were up 50-39.
Baskets by Carter and Ridge early in the fourth quarter added to that and Bryant held a 15-point edge.
After a timeout, Peck and Livers connected on unanswered 3-pointers causing Olberts to stop the proceedings for a visit as well. A driving jumper by Carter got the Hornets back on track.
The final turning point came in the last two minutes. With the Hornets ahead 62-52, Reeves took a charge to regain possession. The Panthers trapped Ridge in the corner and fouled him but Ridge, trying to clear space, caught Shelnut with an elbow and was whistled for a technical foul. It was the senior’s fifth foul, ending his night. Olberts pulled junior B.J. Wood off the bench to shoot the one-and-one in Ridge’s place. And Wood came through in the clutch, knocking down both ends.
The march to the other end followed. Livers hit both technical foul shots. But, with the ensuing possession, the Panthers came up empty as Shelnut and Kyle Belew each misfired. Reeves hit two free throws with 1:07 left and the Hornets won comfortably.
“That could’ve been a big swing,” Olberts noted. “If B.J. doesn’t come in an hit those free throws, they hit their’s then hit a 3, the lead has gone from 10 to 5 in a hurry and it’s a dogfight. B.J. came up big for us there, coming off the bench cold.”