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Mills sets quick pace, outlasts Benton

A fast start gave Mills enough of a cushion to pick up a 6A/5A-5 Conference victory Tuesday night.

The Comets jumped to a 14-point first-quarter lead and hit 10 of 13 free throws over the game's final six minutes to beat Benton 67-54 at the Galaxy Gymnasium.

Senior guard Grehlon Easter had a team-high 25 points for Mills (12-2, 2-0), which took a 28-14 lead into the second quarter but had trouble putting the Panthers away. Junior guard Branton McCrary added 11 points while junior forward Kevin Cross finished with 11 points, 6 rebounds and 3 steals.

"We knew it was gonna be a tough one," Mills Coach Raymond Cooper said. "We played [Benton] over in the Spa City Classic in Hot Springs earlier this season, and they gave us a tough time there. They are a very difficult team to play and prepare for."

The Panthers outscored the Comets 40-39 over the final three quarters and made several charges after halftime. Senior guard Jai Peters scored 19 of his game-high 29 points in the second half for Benton (13-4, 2-1), which lost to Mills 52-43 on Dec. 28.

The Comets scored 15 of the game's first 19 points, with many of them coming off turnovers and easy baskets in transition. Easter had 15 points and three assists in the first quarter, and as a team, the Comets hit 11 of 17 shots.

The Panthers slowed the pace in the second quarter and showed the patience on offense that Coach Dexter Hendrix wanted.

"That first quarter was pretty much the key to the game," Hendrix said. "When you're playing the No. 1 team in the state at their place, you can't allow them to get out and run in transition. That tempo in that first quarter was definitely in their favor and had we allowed it to stay like that, it would've gotten ugly, but we battled back. We just didn't have enough in the end, though."

Peters had a hand in all 14 of the team's points in the second quarter, with his no-look pass to junior forward Sawyer Oulch pulling Benton within 39-28 at halftime.

The Panthers used a 7-0 run early in the second half to cut their deficit to 41-35 after Peters' three-point play with 4:23 to play in the third quarter. Easter responded on Mills' next trip with a three-pointer to help the Comets re-establish some distance.

Benton again got to within six (49-43) in the fourth quarter after two free throws from senior forward Evan Sims with 7:17 remaining in the game, but Easter answered with two of his own to start a 10-3 spurt for the Comets that carried them to victory.

BENTON (54)

Peters 11 6-6 29, Oulch 2 0-0 4, Shelnut 1 0-0 2, Cates 1 0-0 2, Sims 3 3-4 9, McClendon 3 0-0 6, Croft 1 0-0 2, Ross 0 0-0 0. Totals 22 9-10 54.

MILLS (67)

McCrary 5 4-6 14, Easter 6 10-13 25, Greene 2 0-0 5, Virden 2 2-2 6, Clark 0 1-2 1, Shelton 0 0-0 0, Cross 5 1-2 11, K. Jones 2 0-0 5. Totals 22 18-25 67.

Benton (13-4) 14 14 11 15 -- 54

Mills (12-2) 28 11 10 18 -- 67

ı Benton 1 (Peters 1), Mills 5 (Easter 3, Greene 1, K. Jones 1). Team fouls -- Benton 20, Mills 16. Fouled out -- Oulch, McClendon.

Sports on 01/10/2018

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