Minden got their revenge against #1 Benton with a 54-50 win on Tuesday night in front of a packed Palace.
“I can’t say enough good things about our team and how we competed,” Minden head coach Jacob Brown said. “Both teams went out and laid it on the line. What a game.”
The Benton-Minden rivalry has produced two of the most electric high school games in the area this season, regardless of sport.
The gym was near capacity as the Minden band made its booming entrance just before starting lineups were called. State championship games don’t produce that sort of energy.
“That was one of the most special games I’ve ever been in as a coach,” Brown said.
“The city of Minden, our community and student body, what a great environment they created,” Brown said. “These are two great basketball teams, and the energy made it so much fun for our kids to play in. Both teams represented their community so well.”
On the court, the play matched the dizzying energy. Minden got out to a four point lead before Benton settled down to get back in the game. The Lady Tigers led 16-15 after the first quarter.
“We started out very aggressive,” Brown said. “We really attacked the offensive glass early. As the game progressed, I thought we got less aggressive.”
Benton’s Emily Ward got going offensively, especially on fast-breaks.
“Our transition defense wasn’t very good in the second quarter,” Brown said. “We didn’t force them into their offensive sets.”
Benton led 29-28 at halftime.
The Lady Tiders caught fire in the third quarter to go on a 14-4 run that began with a three-point bomb by Destini Powell.
“We got back to playing aggressive and getting into the paint,” Brown said. “That opened up lanes and outside shots for us.”
A missed layup turned into an and-one for Ward as the Lady Tigers cut the lead to six points heading into the fourth.
‘“You knew it was setting up for a big-time finish,” Brown said.
Benton is the top team in the state for a reason. Brown knew they weren’t going to fold.
“Good teams aren’t going to die,” he said. “We knew they were going to come back.”
A Ward steal turned into a layup that cut the Minden lead to 44-42 in the fourth quarter.
Derrica Gilbert and Ward traded baskets to bring the score to 50-47 with Minden ahead.
Benton’s Jada Anderson hit a three-pointer with one minute left that tied the game.
Benton pressured the ball but the Tiders sliced through it, finding Tayler Banks for a tough finish that put Minden up 52-50 with forty seconds left in the game.
Benton called timeout to draw up a play.
“We were tough defensively,” Brown said. “We got stop after stop.”
Minden came up with another stop before Bre Rodgers was fouled.
With 19 seconds remaining, Rodgers calmly drained two free throws to put the game out of reach.
“Games like this, you’re going to have to endure and play through adversity,” Brown said. “I commend our girls on keeping their composure.”
Gilbert led Minden with 18 points. She was everywhere for the Tiders, whether it was guarding Ward on defense or grabbing offensive rebounds.
She had a tough game in the loss to Benton on Jan. 11, but more than made up for it with her play on Tuesday. She had to be carried off the floor from cramping after the game, but her energy was something special.
Rodgers had 14 and was a calming presence as ever with her ball-handling, defense, and clutch shooting.
Ward led Benton (29-3, 12-1) with 23.
Janiya Reed had 11 for Minden, and Banks had seven.
The Lady Tiders improve to 28-3 and 12-1 in district. Minden is now tied with Benton for the district lead.
The Tiders play next against Huntington at The Palace at 6 p.m.