Long after her night ended in Monday’s opening round of the J&C Hoops Classic, Benton Central junior Evonnie Payne lay on the May Gymnasium floor.
The forward waited patiently as the Bison athletic trainers wrapped bags of ice around Payne’s lower legs, a remedy for the painful shin splits she has endured since seventh grade.
The discomfort is enough that Payne is never far from a bottle of Ibuprofen. Yet it didn’t slow her down in the fourth quarter of a physically demanding game against rival McCutcheon.
Payne scored seven of her 13 points in the fourth quarter and collected eight rebounds and a pair of steals in the Class 3A No. 8 Bison’s 45-40 first-round victory.
“I just really wanted this game, not just for me but mostly for my team,” Payne said. “I knew it meant a lot to us to get this huge win.”
Either BC or McCutcheon has won six of the eight tournament championships, including three title-game meetings. Their rivalry includes a 2-point McCutcheon win in the 2010 championship and a triple-overtime classic in 2008, also won by the Mavericks.
McCutcheon (0-2) won the rebounding battle 44-39 and hit 5 of 16 3-pointers, compared to 1 of 11 for Benton Central. But the Mavericks couldn’t overcome a 23.1 percent shooting night and 22 turnovers.
“Yes, it had us extra motivated,” said McCutcheon junior guard Katee Kurtz, who posted nine points and eight rebounds. “We worked really hard in practices and we’ve been preparing for this. It did really let us down that we ended up losing. We worked so hard throughout the entire game.”
Benton Central (2-0) looked like it would take a four-point lead into halftime when reserve Taylor Tucker checked into the game for the first time and immediately scored on a put-back.
But at the other end, McCutcheon’s Gabby Gary beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer, cutting the Bison’s halftime advantage to 17-16. BC freshman Madison Tolen had beaten the first-quarter buzzer with a 3.
The Mavericks kept clicking from outside in the third quarter, hitting 4 of 7 from behind the arch. Becca Spitalniak hit two to help McCutcheon turn a six-point deficit into a 31-28 lead with 40 seconds left in the period.
“If we execute like we’re capable of, it makes easier shots for us to hit,” McCutcheon coach Jeff Knoy said. “Down the stretch we did some things that were uncharacteristic for us and missed those shots.”
Payne found a burst of energy for the fourth quarter, scoring on a layup in transition and adding a put-back as part of a 10-0 run. She scored seven of Benton Central’s 15 points in the final period, including three points, a rebounds and a forced turnover in the final 71 seconds.
“That helped us a lot; she played amazing,” said BC sophomore center Kaylan Coffman, who collected 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocks despite foul trouble. “She’s really a fast and strong physical girl.”