Many a sage old coach has opined, “Nothing’s ever quite as good as it seems and nothing’s ever quite as bad as it seems.”
But, for the Bryant Hornets, as they walked off the court following their battle with the Alma Airedales at the Hornets’ Nest Tuesday night, it felt pretty bad, an absolute punch to the gut.
The Hornets saw a 16-point second-half lead melt away. Alma, which hit an incredible 12 of 16 3-pointers in the game including all three attempts in the fourth quarter, rallied for a 55-53 stunner over Bryant, which came in tied for the 7A/6A-Central Conference lead but smarting from a 70-58 loss to co-leader Siloam Springs on Friday.
“It’s hard to deal with,” acknowledged Hornets coach Mike Abrahamson of the home loss. “It’s a tough one.
“I’ve got to find a way to put our kids in a better position to succeed at the end of the game because what I’m doing’s not working,” he asserted. “I’ve got to do a better job to take some pressure off our kids so that we can make more winning plays.”
The Hornets had chances to win in the end, despite Alma leading 55-51 with :48.7 left in the contest. They missed three shots — two from point-blank range — on the first possession after Alma’s Nathan Corder had converted two free throws to forge that 4-point lead.
Corder rebounded the third of Bryant’s misses and the Airedales called a timeout to set up what coach Stan Flenor wanted to do against the Hornets’ press. When play resumed, the plan was foiled as Romen Martin made a steal and a whirling move to the hoop for a layup, cutting the lead to 55-53 with :29.5 to go.
After a Bryant timeout, the Airedales worked the ball to midcourt then it got loose and tantalizingly rolled past several players from both teams and out of bounds as Alma retained possession.
But the Hornets gave themselves another chance by forcing a five-second call as Alma was unable to get the ball in. With :06.5 showing, Bryant point guard Calvin Allen was fouled but his trip to the free-throw line came up empty.
Still, the Hornets forced a held ball to give themselves yet another opportunity with :03.9 showing. After an Alma timeout, the Hornets inbounded under their own basket. Allen got it in to senior Kevin Hunt but he was surrounded by three Airedales. He got the ball back to Allen who was a bit too far under the basket still. He tried to flip up a shot from under the board but it rimmed out. Lowell Washington got a tip away in time but it refused to fall. And before he could follow, time ran out.
Alma, now 10-8 overall and 3-4 in conference play, celebrated the unlikely victory. The Airedales actually had more 3-point field goals than 2-pointers (12 to 6). And, ironically, they were just 7 of 14 from the free-throw line. Corder, who led all scorers with 24 points, converted those two late in the game, however.
All five Alma starters hit 3’s. Corder was 5 of 7 beyond the arc and Heath Friddle was 4 of 6 on his way to 14 points.
“That’s what they’re capable of,” Abrahamson said. “Give them credit for that. We tried to be in their faces as best as we could and they hit them sometimes even when we were in their face. They hit some tough ones.
“They wouldn’t go away,” he continued. “And we struggled to score. That’s a bad combination. We had several opportunities to put them away at the end and we couldn’t do it. What I have them doing, clearly, they’re uncomfortable with or we wouldn’t completely melt down like that. It’s on me. I take the blame and I will do my best to correct it.”
Actually, Bryant hit eight 3’s including four by Martin on his way to 18 points and three by Allen, accounting for all of his 9 points. Usually, when a team knocks down that many from the arc, it’s a recipe for victory. But the Hornets were trumped by the red-hot Airedales.
In fact, the Hornets never trailed until there was 4:06 left in the game and they responded by regaining the advantage on a 3 from Martin and a layup by Marvin Moody off of Allen’s sixth assist.
At the other end, Corder misfired (from inside the arc) and the Hornets had the ball with a 51-48 lead and less than three minutes left. But sophomore point guard Garrison Jenson, starting in place of Alma’s ailing starter, made a steal and a layup to make it a 1-point game.
Another Bryant turnover was cashed in by Will Cluck, who nailed a 3 to put the Airedales back on top, 53-51.
Despite a timeout by Abrahamson, the Hornets turned it over again, leading to Corder’s trip to the line that made it a 4-point game.
The Hornets opened up the game with a 12-2 run. Hunt scored the game’s first 4 points but was held to 7 for the game by the Airedales. After Alex Beneaux got Alma on the board, Allen drained a 3 at one end and, at the other, took a charge. Braylon Steen, who had 11 points for the Hornets, got his first basket off an eye-popping feed from Allen to make it 9-2. An Alma turnover followed, forcing a timeout.
When play resumed, Allen drove the lane and kicked out to Martin for a triple to cap the run.
Friddle then connected on Alma’s first 3. Allen answered from long range off an assist by Hunt, making it 15-5. Corder scored on a layup off a steal but an offensive rebound basket by Washington countered that. After Steen and Friddle traded free throws, it was 18-9 going into the second quarter.
A pair of baskets by Steen to start the second stanza pushed the lead to 12. Corder drained his first 3 but Martin drove for a basket in response and Moody made a steal that led to another 3 from Martin. An offensive-rebound basket by Washington at the 3:03 mark produced the Hornets’ largest lead 29-13.
Corder and Hunt traded 3’s then Beneaux hit one for the Airedales. In the final minute of the half, Bryant had three chances to add to a 32-19 lead but a missed shot and a pair of turnovers cost them. And when Friddle nailed a 3 from near midcourt at the buzzer ending the half, the Airedales were within 32-22.
But the Hornets came out strong in the second half and pushed the lead back to 16. Steen followed his own miss then combined with Martin to force a turnover that he cashed in off a feed from Martin. Allen made a steal but the Hornets were unable to take advantage. However, moments later, Martin was fouled. His free throws had Bryant up 38-22 with 5:23 left in the third quarter.
Alma went on a tear at that point that included five 3’s and an old-fashioned three-point play. Martin counter-punched with a pair of 3’s and Washington added a stickback but by the end of the third quarter, Alma had cut the lead to 46-40.
And by scoring the first 5 points of the fourth quarter, the Airedales had whittled Bryant’s lead down to 46-45 with 6:54 left to play.
It was a scramble for the next two minutes-plus until Friddle hit the 3 that gave Alma its first lead of the game.
Bryant, despite playing at home and aggressively on offense, shot just seven free throws in the game and actually had more field goals (21) than Alma (18).
The Hornets, now 15-5 overall and 5-2 in the 7A/6A-Central Conference, remains 3-0 against 7A teams in the league. They face another 6A league foe when they travel to Greenwood on Friday. They’ll try to get back on track in advance of back-to-back critical games against 7A conference rivals, Catholic and Van Buren.
AIREDALES 55, HORNETS 53
Score by quarters
Alma 9 13 18 15 — 55
BRYANT 18 14 14 7 — 53
AIREDALES (10-8, 3-4, 1-2) 55
Jensen 2-2 0-1 5, Friddle 4-7 2-2 14, Cluck 2-7 0-0 5, Beneaux 2-4 2-8 7, Corder 8-13 3-3 24, Johnson 0-0 0-0 0, Wood 0-0 0-0 0, Stahler 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-33 (55%) 7-14 (50%) 55.
HORNETS (15-5, 5-2, 3-0) 53
Allen 3-7 0-2 9, Hunt 3-8 0-0 7, Moody 1-3 0-0 2, Washington 3-8 0-0 6, Martin 6-13 2-2 18, Steen 5-7 1-2 11, McIntosh 0-0 0-0 0, Cowart 0-0 0-0 0, Sahr 0-1 0-1 0, Moore 0-0 0-0 0, Turner 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-47 (45%) 3-7 (43%) 53.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 8-19 (Martin 4-10, Allen 3-4, Hunt 1-4, Moody 0-1), Alma 12-16 (Corder 5-7, Friddle 4-6, Cluck 1-1, Beneaux 1-1, Jensen 1-1). Turnovers: Bryant 13, Alma 16. Rebounds: Bryant 12-13 25 (Washington 6-3 9, Moody 1-3 4, Martin 0-4 4, Hunt 2-1 3, Steen 1-1 2, McIntosh 1-0 1, team 1-1 2), Alma 5-16 21 (Beneaux 1-5 6, Cluck 1-3 4, Corder 0-3 3, Friddle 0-2 2, Jensen 1-0 1, Wood 0-1 1, Stahler 0-1 1, team 2-1 3). Team fouls: Bryant 16, Alma 15.