By Rob Patrick
HOT SPRINGS — The Bryant Hornets were served up a second slice of frustration against the rival Benton Panthers on Monday, Dec. 28, in the opening round of the Summit Bank Spa City Shootout at Summit Arena.
Just 10 days before, in their last game before the Christmas break, the Hornets had suffered a 52-41 loss to the Panthers in the Salt Bowl Shootout at UALR’s Jack Stephens Center.
This time, the Hornets finished closer, 51-46, but, in much the same way, couldn’t complete a rally to extract a victory.
Now 6-5, Bryant will play on Tuesday, Dec. 29, at 11:30 a.m., against Pulaski Oak Grove in the consolation bracket. Benton advances in the winners bracket to play Hot Springs on Tuesday at 5:30.
“It was kind of a repeat of the last game,” acknowledged Hornets head coach Ron Marvel. “We had some opportunities. We weren’t ever really out of the game.”
Whereas in their early meeting, the Panthers got out to a fast start and maintained it the rest of the game before fighting off the Hornets’ late charge, this game was back-and-forth throughout the first half.
Bryant led 7-4 when K-Ron Lairy hit a 3 and Brandon Parish drove for a layup. In between, the Panthers were called for three fouls, on a charge then two for holding as they pressed the Hornets. So, it looked like the Panthers’ aggressive full-court defense might not be as effective this time around. That changed later, however.
Benton tied it at 7 and 9 before Lairy fed Kendal Butzlaff for a layup to beat the buzzer, putting the Hornets up 11-9 going into the second period.
Lairy drove and kicked out to Parish for a 3 to start the second and Bryant had a 5-point advantage. The Hornets maintained the lead for most of what was left of the half. Benton tied it at 18 with 4:19 left but Lairy connected from 3-point range to keep them ahead. He later added a hoop on a driving jumper that had the Hornets up 23-18, matching their largest lead of the game with 2:02 left in the half.
Eddie Poland answered on an alley-oop pass behind the Bryant zone and, after a Bryant miss, Vance posted up for a basket that made it a 1-point game at the break.
In a change of attack on the offensive end, Hornets’ coaches Ron Marvell and Jim Pennington had inserted sophomore L.J. McLaughlin at the high post in order to try to take advantage of his ability to hit the mid-range jumper and to drive to the hoop. To start the second half, McLaughlin was fouled on a move to the rack and converted both free throws to put the Hornets ahead 25-22.
“When we played (Benton) the other night, we got quite a bit out of that,” Marvel mentioned. “Today, it didn’t help us as much.”
But the Panthers countered with a 7-0 run that put them ahead to stay. Trey Davis hit a reverse layup and Vance took advantage of a Bryant turnover to work his way to the line where he converted twice to put the Panthers ahead, 26-25. Another Bryant turnover led to another trip to the line. This time, Davis converted once.
The Hornets, in turn, got a look but couldn’t knock down a shot and Vance posted up for a deuce to make it 29-25.
With 2:55 left in the quarter, the Hornets finally managed their first field goal of the second half when McLaughlin drew the defense and dished to Butzlaff for a layup that whittled the lead to 2. Vance and Dontay Renuard traded baskets then Benton’s Nick Garner misfired, giving the Hornets a chance to tie or take the lead. Renuard launched a 3 from the left wing but it refused to fall.
With 1:16 left in the period, Jordan Griffin converted a pair of free throws for Benton and, after an exchange of turnovers, Chris Martindale buried a 3 and suddenly the Panthers enjoyed a 7-point advantage, their biggest of the game so far.
Renuard, following his own miss, scored and was fouled with :38 left to keep the Hornets close. His three-point play had the Hornets within 4 before Vance added a free throw to make it 37-32 going into the final quarter.
A free throw by Parish to start the fourth-quarter scoring trimmed the lead to 4 again but Benton answered with a 9-2 run to build a double-digit lead.
The Panthers led 47-37 with 5:12 left to play and had a chance to add to the margin after a Bryant turnover. But Jordan Griffin misfired and Parish was fouled on the rebound. He converted twice to begin Bryant’s rally which would come in fits and starts.
Bryant called a timeout to set up a trapping defense then Benton’s coach Chris Nail called one to set his attack against it. When play finally got going again, Lairy made a steal and drove to the other end but missed a contested layup. The carom appeared to go out of bounds off Vance but Lairy, who had landed out of bounds after the shot had the ball touch him before it hit the ground and Benton gained possession.
The two teams traded turnovers then Lairy made another steal. This time he was fouled going to the hole and, with 2:57 to go, he converted twice to trim the margin to 47-41.
Poland connected on a free throw to end a Benton dryspell of almost three minutes. At the other end, Bryant turned it over with one too many inside passes. The Hornets got another chance to get closer when Quinton Motto took a charge as Benton’s Nate Smith drove to the basket, earning his fifth foul.
But, working a give-and-go with Brantley Cozart, Motto couldn’t get a layup to fall before he hit the floor.
Benton worked the ball and the clock until Davis got free for a layup with 1:15 left, giving his team a 50-41 lead. Motto answered with a stickback to trim it the 7 and the Hornets called timoeut with :46 left.
With :32 left, Vance missed the front end of a one-and-one and Lairy buried a long 3 that had Bryant back within 50-46. After a timeout with :24 left, Jordan Griffin was fouled with :23 to go. He converted once but it was still just a two-possession game. The Hornets worked for an open look for Lairy but his shot rimmed out and Vance rebounded and was fouled with :11 left. Though he missed both shots, the Hornets were unable to get another shot at it, turning the ball over.
“We probably had seven or eight possessions that they didn’t score but we couldn’t convert to close the gap down,” Marvel commented. “It seemed like it was 48-41 for a long time and we didn’t score on any of our opportunities. That part’s frustrating.
“But the kids are trying hard,” he added. “Good things just don’t seem to happen for them.”
Poland finished with 17 points, Vance 13 to lead Benton. Lairy had 15 for Bryant with Renuard adding 9, Parish and McLaughlin 8 each.
PANTHERS 51, HORNETS 46
Score by quarters
BRYANT 11 12 9 14 — 46
Benton 9 13 15 14 — 51
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Lairy 5-14 2-2 1-3 4 3 15
Parish 2-7 3-6 2-2 4 2 8
Renuard 4-12 1-1 3-4 7 3 9
McLaughlin 3-7 4-4 1-1 2 2 10
Butzlaff 1-2 0-0 1-5 6 1 2
Hampton 0-0 0-0 0-2 2 1 0
Cozart 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 1 0
Motto 1-2 0-0 1-0 1 0 2
Team 1-0 1
Totals 16-46 10-13 10-17 27 13 46
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
N.Griffin 0-2 0-0 0-2 2 3 0
Smith 1-3 0-0 0-1 1 5 3
Davis 3-6 1-2 0-2 2 3 7
Poland 5-7 5-8 1-6 7 1 17
Vance 5-6 3-7 1-3 4 1 13
Ulmer 0-0 0-0 0-2 2 0 0
Garner 0-1 0-0 0-1 1 2 0
J.Griffin 2-6 3-4 0-0 0 4 8
Martindale 1-3 0-0 0-0 0 0 3
Gattin 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Team 1-3 4
Totals 17-34 12-21 3-20 23 19 51
Three-point field goals: Bryant 4-17 (Lairy 3-8, Parish 1-4, Renuard 0-4, Cozart 0-1), Benton 5-10 (Poland 2-2, Smith 1-3, J.Griffin 1-3, Martindale 1-2).
Turnovers: Bryant 16, Benton 16.