Switch to zone helps Hornets get past Panthers in freshman battle

The Benton Panthers freshman team was doing a good job of beating the Bryant Hornets defenders off the dribble in the first half of their regular-season-ending game at the Bryant Junior High gym on Monday night. And, as a result, the Hornets had two players out with two fouls and four others with fouls at intermission. Plus, the game was tied 23-23.

In the second half, in hopes of cutting that down, Hornets coach Tyler Posey put his team in a 2-3 zone. 

“We wanted to try to slow them down a little bit,” he related. “Going to that zone helped us keep them out of the lane. It was pretty effective.”

Indeed, the Panthers only scored 10 points in the second half. The Hornets didn’t score much more than that but did enough to extract a 32-27 victory as they improved to 8-10 overall and 4-4 in Central Arkansas Junior High Conference play with a potential conference tournament ahead. Two make-up games involving four other teams will be played later this week to determine the brackets for the tourney, which is set to begin on Monday, Feb. 15.

The last time the two teams played was at Benton on Jan. 4. It took two overtimes before the Hornets escaped with a 57-53 win, a contrast to the low-scoring affair on Monday.

“It was by design, for sure,” Posey said. “We were trying to keep them low, keep pressure on the ball. They lost their point guard their last game and I knew they were going to struggle a little bit with handling the ball. 

“But they did a really good job of handling it,” he acknowledged. “We didn’t really create a lot of turnovers or get a lot of pressure on the ball, but we still kept them low on scoring. We didn’t score that much either so it kind of kept it a pretty low scoring affair.”

Big Joseph Nelson led all scorers with 12 for the Hornets. Trent Ford and Devin Holmes had 6 each, Cairon Allen 4, Grant Johnson 3 and Jameson Lewis 1. Allen hauled down a game-high 10 rebounds. Jameson Lewis had nine boards and Nelson had six including five on the offensive end. The Hornets outrebounded the Panthers 34-26 but had 16 turnovers to Benton’s 11.

Chris Barnard scored 11 for the Panthers. Maddox Davis had 7, Carter Hedden 3.

The Hornets led 28-24 going into the final two minutes of the game. Holmes drove for a layup with 1:49 to go but Davis hit a 3 to make it 30-27. After a timeout by Benton, the Panthers forced a Bryant turnover. Davis tried another 3 but it rimmed out.

With time running out, the Panthers had only committed three team fouls, so they quickly started fouling and finally put the Hornets in the bonus with :24.3 left. Ford converted the front end of his one-and-one to make it a two-possession lead. 

In turn, Barnard missed a 3 and Lewis was fouled as he gathered the rebound. With :14.4 left, he converted the first of his one-and-one chance to set the final score.

Bryant forced a turnover only to turn it back over to the Panthers who got a timeout with :09.6 to go but they could not score before time ran out.

The Hornets led for most of the first half. Ford scored off the offensive glass to get the scoring started. Grant Johnson made a steal and fed Allen for a layup then Nelson added a free throw.

Barnard got the Panthers on the board with a pair of free throws, but Johnson took a dish from Ford and drained a 3 then Nelson added another free throw to make it 9-2.

Hedden hit a 16-foot jumper then Davis converted a pair at the free-throw line to cut it to 9-6 but Holmes hit a pull-up jumper in the lane to make it a 5-point game going into the second quarter.

A pair of buckets by Nelson inside offset a layup by Barnard and it was 15-8. But the Panthers responded with an 8-0 burst to take a 16-15 lead.

A baseline drive by Holmes put the Hornets back on top but a free throw by Barnard tied it at 17. Bryant had two chances at the free throw line to regain the upper hand in the final 20 seconds, but both turned into empty trips.

Allen hit the offensive glass to score the first basket of the second half. Johnson fed Nelson for a bucket then Ford nailed a 3 as Bryant pushed the lead to 24-17 with 1:31 left in the period.

With Barnard scoring 4 points to counter an offensive-rebound basket by Nelson, the Panthers pulled within 26-21 going into the fourth quarter.

Hedden hit a free throw to start to trim it to a 4-point margin then neither team scored for nearly two game minutes. Nelson broke the ice with a basket at 3:43. Barnard answered with 2:51 to go to make it 28-24, setting up the final scenario.

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