For more photos of this event by Rick Nation, go here; photos also by Kevin Nagle
BENTON — With 1:32 left to play, the Bryant Lady Hornets held a 29-21 lead on the rival Benton Lady Panthers on Thursday night. All it figured they needed to do was take care of the ball and hit free throws and they’d come away with their 17th win in 20 games this season and the number three seed for the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference tournament in Conway starting Monday.
But three times, Lady Hornets went to the free-throw line with a one-and-one opportunity and all three times, they missed the front ends.
Meanwhile, the Lady Panthers, who hadn’t hit a 3-point shot until the fourth quarter, hit two in the final 1:20. Still, the Lady Hornets held a 29-27 lead with :38.9 to go.
With 10.4 left, Benton’s Alyssa Houston scored and was fouled. Her free throw gave the Lady Panthers a 30-29 lead. And when Bryant’s Jaelyn Allen’s shot from the wing rimmed out at the buzzer, Benton held on for the comeback win.
So, it will be the Lady Panthers who will be the 3 seed for the tourney. Bryant, 16-4 overall, will open on Monday at 5:45 p.m., against Cabot South at Buzz Bolding Arena. Benton will take on Cabot North at 3:15.
Earlier this season, the Lady Hornets had held off a Benton comeback charge for a 29-27 win. Though they lost this time, head coach Nathan Castaldi said, “I thought our girls did a lot better job executing there towards the end. Last time, I felt like we were just kind of hanging on.
“I thought we did what we had to do,” he asserted. “The shots just didn’t fall. The free throws just didn’t fall that last minute and a half.”
It was a struggle all game long for the Lady Hornets who shot just 25 percent (9 of 36) for the night.
“We got it where we wanted to a lot of the night,” Castaldi acknowledged. “I think their length caused us a few problems. We didn’t get as many clean looks as we’re used to getting.
“Hats off to them,” he said of the Lady Panthers. “They made some shots. They stepped up and hit a couple of 3’s there at the end then (Houston) had the big free throw at the end.”
The Lady Hornets struggled early in the game, falling behind 9-2 by the end of the first quarter. A short jumper by Natalie Edmonson on an inbounds play provided Bryant’s only points.
The second period was a different story. A steal and drive by Lyniyae Johnson started Bryant’s surge. Edmonson nailed a 3 and, after a pair of missed free throw at Benton’s end, Allen converted a pair from the line to tie the game.
Off a turnover, Bryant’s Emileigh Muse knocked down a triple to give her team its first lead, 12-9. Following a free throw by Houston, Johnson scored again to make it 14-10.
But the Lady Panthers scored the last four points of the half and it was deadlocked at intermission.
Haya Winfield made a steal and Lauren Lain followed her own miss to start the scoring in the third quarter. With 4:08 left in the third quarter, Houston posted up for a game-tying basket.
But Benton couldn’t score again until the final seconds of the period. Bryant took advantage with an 8-0 run that included free throws by Lane and 3’s by Edmonson and Muse.
The lead was 24-16 before Houston converted a pair of free throws with :12 left to make it a 6-point game going into the fourth.
Presley Chism opened the fourth quarter with Benton’s first 3. But the Lady Panthers were held scoreless over the next four minutes of playing time.
The Lady Hornets, meanwhile, were in their own swoon. They didn’t score over the first 2:58 of the period.
Finally, Edmonson hit a pull-up jumper. Winfield blocked a shot by Chism. Though Allen misfired, Muse made a steal and converted two free throws with 2:15 left. Those gave the Lady Hornets their largest lead of the game, 28-21.
With 1:32 left, Winfield hit a free throw to extend that advantage.
But Bryant would not score again in the game.
LADY PANTHERS 30, LADY HORNETS 29
Score by quarters
BRYANT 2 12 10 5 — 29
Benton 9 5 4 12 — 30
LADY HORNETS 29
Lain 1-7 2-3 4, Edmonson 4-10 0-0 10, Muse 2-3 2-3 8, Winfield 0-7 1-2 1, Allen 0-4 2-3 2, Knight 0-2 0-0 0, Johnson 2-3 0-0 4, Winston 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 9-36 (25%) 7-11 (64%) 29.
LADY PANTHERS 30
Davis 1-2 0-0 3, Chism 3-9 4-4 12, Ferguson 1-3 0-0 2, McIntire 0-4 0-0 0, Houston 3-6 7-9 13, Albareh 0-1 0-4 0, Hobson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 8-25 (32%) 11-17 (65%) 30.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 4-10 (Edmonson 2-6, Muse 2-3, Allen 0-1), Benton 3-11 (Chism 2-7, Davis 1-2, McIntire 0-2). Turnovers: Bryant 12, Benton 16. Rebounds: Bryant 12-13 25 (Win field 3-3 6, Lain 2-3 5, Johnson 3-1 4, Allen 1-2 3, Knight 1-2 3, Muse 1-1 2, Edmonson 0-1 1, team 1-0 1), Benton 5-19 24 (Ferguson 2-9 11, Houston 1-5 6, McIntire 0-2 2, Abareh 1-1 2, Davis 0-1 1, team 1-1 2). Team fouls: Bryant 14, Benton 13. Fouled out: Benton, McIntire.