Tuesday, December 11, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Benton avenges loss from last year

Leader sportswriter

The matchup was a repeat of last year’s final, but the outcome was different as Benton defeated Cabot 61-51 in the championship round of the Cabot Pre-Holiday tournament at Panther Arena on Saturday.

Benton held a size advantage at every position, but especially inside with post player Graham Gardner, who towered over everyone else at 6-10. Gardener led the visiting Panthers with 13 points.

“They’re about bigger, faster and stronger at every position,” Panthers coach Jerry Bridges said. “But I’m going to be honest with you, I felt like we grew this week as a team. We’ve improved greatly this week.”

Benton held all Cabot players to less then 10 points, including eight points for senior point guard Bryan Shrum and seven points each for forward Clayton Vaught and fellow senior Kyle Thielemier.

“I thought at times, we did a good job,” Bridges said. “I give Benton credit, I think they wore down my point guard. When Shrum got tired, we weren’t as effective attacking. He did a great job until he wore down.”

Benton led 29-22 at halftime, and got a big boost to start the third quarter when guard Bryan Torres drew a foul while shooting a three pointer. He went to the line at the 6:43 mark and hit all three to put Benton up 32-23.

“We had it down to four or five to start the third quarter, and then we foul a three-point shooter,” Bridges said. “You just can’t do that. I was just proud of our effort. Going into this week, I was a little concerned about it. But I think we’re going to be a competitive team. We’re getting better.”

For Cabot (2-4), there were positive signs despite falling behind on the scoreboard, as football players Brett Frazier and Jake Ferguson showed signs of gaining their basketball legs with good second-half performances. Frazier scored all of his team high nine points in the fourth quarter, going 5 for 5 from the free-throw line.

“He hasn’t been in the gym with us long from football,” Bridges said. “I really believe he and Jake Ferguson both – my goal for them is for us to get through Christmas and then maybe they’ll be ready to get into the mix. They’re making strides quicker than I thought. I think Brett has an opportunity to be good for us in the future. We’ve got to get him a little more aggressive getting on the defensive boards for us, but he’s got a soft touch, he can shoot. If they foul him, he can go and make his free throws.

Gardner scored many of his points on putbacks, including back-to-back shots in the final three minutes that kept the margin over 10 for Benton down the stretch.

“We were swatting at his arm pits,” Bridges said. “I thought my guys battled up and tried to make him work for it. They are a good team, and they really wanted that win. We had that one spell in the second quarter where we struggled with just six points. We tried to keep them at a tempo we were comfortable with. You’ve got to give them credit, they did a good job with their defense.”

Rickey Gipson added 12 points for Benton while Torres and Blake Bowlin each finished with eight points.