Their conference records might have no reflected it, but when Harrisburg and Benton meet on the hardwood, records can be thrown out the window.
Both the Bulldogs and Rangerettes were looking for their first Southern Illinois River-to-River Conference win Tuesday night and like a heavyweight fight, both duked it out to the end.
In the end, it was Harrisburg who earned a 42-36 win over Benton and moved to 1-0 in league play and 9-2 overall, while Benton dropped to 3-6 and 0-2 in the conference.
After notching their first conference win, Harrisburg head coach Jake Stewart will look back at his team going 21-of-26 from the free throw line, including a clip of 17-of-18 heading into the fourth quarter to keep Benton at bay.
"That"s a great job by our kids," Stewart said. "We spend a lot of time working on free throws, so I was very happy to see that pay off tonight."
Harrisburg got a game-high 15 points from Jessica Hopson and Matty Hawkins also finished in double figures for the Bulldogs, tacking on 13 points and five rebounds in the win.
Benton"s lone double figure scorer was Ally Gischer, who tallied 12 points.
Harrisburg and Benton used the first quarter to feel each out and after exhausting five lead changes and two ties, Harrisburg caught fire and came out swinging, turning a 7-7 tie into a 19-7 lead.
It was short lived however as Benton found some strength inside, going to 6-foot-2 senior center Alexis Abney, who countered with seven straight points to make it 19-14 and pull the Rangerettes to 23-16 at halftime.
Benton head coach Andy Sloan said he will look back on the first half where his team went nearly four minutes without a bucket as the key for Tuesday night"s loss.
"That"s been the story for us all year long. We have a hard time putting the ball in the bucket, I think our defense has been good for the most part, but when you can"t put the ball in the hole, it makes it tough to win ballgames. We have to get confidence and find a way to do that."
Harrisburg tried to deliver the knockout blow courtesy of the free throw, opening up the third quarter with five straight to build a 12-point, 28-16 lead. Benton responded with five of their own to make it 28-21 with 4:37 to play, but the Bulldogs closed the quarter on a 6-0 run, four of those points coming from the charity stripe.
Credit to them," Sloan said. "They go to the stripe and knock down their free throws. I thought they shot the ball extremely well from the line and that made it tough on us."
Benton outscored Harrisburg 12-6 in the fourth quarter, but time of possession and a keep-away offense helped the Bulldogs close the game out.
"Any game in our conference is going to a close, tough ballgame and it"s going to be one where you are up by 14 or 15 points and the other team is going to make a run," Stewart said. "I told our kids, Benton was going to make a run and credit them for that. I thought we defended and rebounded well, but we also missed some wide open looks."
Michael Dann covers prep and college sports for the Harrisburg Daily Register and Eldorado Daily Journal. Follow him on Twitter: @spydieshooter.
Harrisburg 11 12 13 06 — 42
Benton 07 09 07 12 — 35
Harrisburg: Hawkins 1-5 11-13 13, Miller 2-8 2-2 6, Hopson 1-1 7-8 15, Davis 2-3 1-3 8, Crisp 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 6-18 21-16 42.
Benton: Casey 1-2 0-0 5, Carlton 1-4 0-0 2, Milby 0-1 0-0 3, Gischer 4-9 1-2 12, Pedigo 1-7 2-2 4, Abney 3-6 3-6 9. Totals: 10-29 6-10 35
3-point FG: Harrisburg 3-16 (Miller 0-2, Hopson 2-6, Davis 1-7, Crisp 0-1), Benton 3-19 (Casey 1-5, Milby 1-4, Gischer 1-8, Zinzileta 0-2). Rebounds: Harrisburg 29, Benton 26, Turnovers: Harrisburg 10, Benton 8.