By Rob Patrick
LITTLE ROCK — The Bryant Hornets got back in it. After trailing by 16 late in the third quarter, they’d worked the Benton Panthers’ lead back to just 3 when senior Brandon Parish drained a 3-point basket from the corner with 1:47 left to play.
At the 1:07 mark, Benton’s Eddie Poland was sent to the free throw line by the Hornets and he converted twice. At the other end, Bryant worked the ball until Parish got another good look from the right corner.
But the shot that would’ve, no doubt, ratcheted up the noise in support of the Hornets even further, did everything but go in and cut the lead to 2. It rimmed out and, in the closing minute, Poland hit four more free throws and Trey Davis two as the Hornets went dry and the Panthers extended the lead to 52-41.[more]
That stood as a final at the annual Salt Bowl Shootout at UALR’s Jack Stephens Center on Friday night as both teams wrapped up their pre-Christmas schedule. They will meet again on Dec. 28 when they open play in the Summit Classic in Hot Springs.
It’d been a while since the Hornets had trailed by that much. Certainly they didn’t in their three previous games, all winners. They’d fallen behind 8-2 to start the game as Benton came out more aggressive on both ends of the floor. Though they repeatedly made runs at the Panthers, the Hornets never led in the game.
It was the seventh straight time that Benton had prevailed in the roundball rivalry. But the Hornets did not go quietly this time.
“I was proud of the kids,” stated Hornets coach Ronnie Marvel. “I’d say, in the past when I’ve seen them playing a game like that, when they got down like that, then they were probably through. But tonight, they fought their way back and gave themselves another chance in the ballgame.
“Our kids played hard but we made some really bad decisions,” he explained. “In the first half, our offense was very stagnant. We were doing the right things but we were pulling up too quick. We needed to go to the basket and we weren’t doing it. We didn’t attack the basket like we should’ve and we settled for the outside shot too many times. And we made some real tactical errors on defense. We didn’t close out on the best shooters at the right times.”
K-Ron Lairy scored the game’s first basket but Benton reeled off 8 in a row including a 3 by Nat Griffin. Bryant’s L.J. McLaughlin ended a five-minute dry spell by nailing a 3. He added a 15-foot jumper and, after Chris Martindale scored for the Panthers, Dontay Renuard drained a trey to get the Hornets even 10-10.
But with :00.2 left in the first quarter, Benton’s Reed Ulmer was fouled as he trying to beat the clock with a 3-pointer. He converted two of the three free throws and the Panthers were ahead to stay.
Bryant just couldn’t get much penetration as the stingy Benton defense. Poland, who would lead all scorer with 17 points, got his first bucket with just over three minutes left to play in the half and the Panthers had an 18-10 lead.
McLaughlin fed Parish for a short jumper but when Poland countered with a 3, the Panthers had their largest lead of the half at 21-12 with 2:12 left in the period.
Lairy got the Hornets back with 7, 23-16, at the half with a pair of free throws and a short jumper off a drive into the lane around a Benton basket by Jordan Griffin.
The teams traded baskets for most of the third quarter. So, going into the final four minutes of the period Benton’s lead was 34-25.
But when Nick Garner buried a triple and the Hornets went on a four-minute scoreless skein, the Panthers were able to built that 16-point lead with just under two minutes left in the period.
The Panthers had a chance to increase it from 41-25 but Nate Smith misfired on a 3-point try and Lairy rebounded for the Hornets. Parish fed Kyle Nossaman, seeing his first meaningful playing time since returning from a leg injury. Lairy made a steal and was fouled with :13.5 showing. His free throws made it 41-29, keeping what proved to be a 16-3 run in line.
Nossaman returned the favor to Parish to start the fourth quarter. The Hornets tightened up their defense and cut down on Benton’s offensive rebounds and the comeback was on.
A three-point play by Lairy on a flying drive at the hoop trimmed the margin to 41-34. After Bryant’s Kendall Butzlaff stood in and took a charge on Poland’s drive, McLaughlin popped a 12-footer to trim the lead to 5.
Parish took a charge and the Hornets had a chance to get closer. But Nossaman’s try for a 3 from the left corner wouldn’t fall. Benton’s Trey Davis rebounded only to have Lairy make a steal that resulted in another pair of free throws and a 44-36 deficit.
The Hornets forced a turnover and stayed aggressive on the offensive end. Parish was fouled and converted twice with 3:38 left.
Benton went to a passing game, milking the clock with a 44-38 lead. Head coach Chris Nail called timout with 2:11 left but, quickly after play resumed the Panthers turned the ball over, setting up Parish’s three-ball that brought the margin to just 3 with 1:47 left to play.
The Hornets had fouls to give and it took until the 1:07 mark to get the Panthers in the bonus, sending Poland to the line. After his free throws, Parish, who scored a season-high 13 points, uncorked a 3 that looked true. But it did everything but fall and, on the rebound, Poland was fouled.
Again, he hit both shots and, again, Parish got another look on a 3-point try only to have it miss off the rim. Davis was fouled after grabbing the carom off the missed shot and he too came through on the line. With :21.8 showing, Benton had pretty much put the game away. In the end, free throws turned a 3-point game into an 11-point victory for Benton.
Lairy finished with 14 points, McLaughlin 7 and Renuard 5. Along with Poland, the Panthers picked up 11 from Luke Vance and 5 from Nick Garner.