Sometimes you want something so badly that, when you get an opportunity to get it, you go a little crazy, you’re not yourself, you do things that, well, you just never do. And you kick yourself when the chance slips away. It hurts all the more.
The Bryant Hornets swept the rival Benton Panthers during the 2011-12 season, a season in which head coach Mike Abrahamson led the team all the way to the semifinals of the State Tournament for the first time since the late 1980’s.
But since then, the Hornets have not been able to get the best of the Panthers; twice in 2012-2013 and twice more in 2013-2014 with Bryant teams that would advance to State as well.
The Panthers made it five wins in a row in the series on Thursday night converting 14 consecutive free throws in the final 1:32 of the game on the way to a 55-45 victory after the Hornets had led 40-36 with 3:29 to go.
Benton converted 21 of 22 free throws in the game, compared to Bryant’s 17 of 28. The Panthers also drilled six 3-pointers including five by sophomore Westin Reddick, who finished with 17 points. Clay Anderson added 16 including 12 of 12 at the free-throw line. Quawn Marshall scored 13.
The loss for Bryant came despite a 26-point performance by junior Kevin Hunt. No one else had more than 4 points for the Hornets.
“We looked very inexperienced out there,” Abrahamson acknowledged. “Of course, we are. There were several things that happened throughout the course of the game, little things that I’ve never seen before. It’s what I call ‘game-slippage.’ You’re in the game and you do something that you’re not supposed to do or you forget. There was a lot of that tonight, a lot of it, not to mention that we missed 11 free throws and they missed one. I thought that was huge.
“Being consistent is kind of what makes you great, doing little things great every single day,” he related. “We’ll get back to work and we’ll get better. I hate it for our kids because they wanted it so bad, with the rivalry and all the extra stuff that goes with the game. Ultimately, I hope the experience is valuable.
“There are so many things that we can improve upon from tonight. Maybe that’s not what we’ll normally do; maybe it was the atmosphere, maybe it was the environment; just being young and inexperienced.”
Actually, the Hornets answered every run that Benton made up to the final 19-5 burst by the Panthers. Hunt scored the game’s first 4 points as the Panthers failed to score over the first 4:45 of the contest. Unfortunately, the Hornets fared little better. Bryant led 5-4 going into the final minute of the opening period. That’s when Riddick, in off the bench, drained his first triple, giving his team a 7-5 edge at the break.
To start the third quarter, Riddick and 6-9 teammate Jake Scoggins each missed. Wesley Peters rebounded for the Hornets and Hunt raced to the other end for a layup to tie the game.
Benton’s Clay Anderson drove for the basket only to be called for a charge as Bryant’s Antavious Lewis set up defensively. It was the third charge that Lewis had absorbed already in the game.
But the Hornets were unable to take advantage and Reddick tossed in another 3 to give the Panthers’ their first lead. Marshall added a pair of buckets and Benton had a 14-7 lead, its largest before that final run.
Hunt fueled the Hornets’ rally with two free throws and a 15-foot jumper. And, after Lewis scored on a drive to the rack despite being fouled, the lead was down to 1. Lewis snatched the carom off a Benton miss and, at the other end, Hunt buried a triple and the Hornets were back on top.
It was 16-16 at the half. Riddick hit a 15-footer to start the third quarter but Hunt matched that and when Romen Martin converted twice at the line with 6:58 left, Bryant was on top 20-18.
Though the Hornets had opportunities to bump the advantage further at the free-throw line but could only get 1 of 4 to go down. So it was 21-18.
Benton cut it to 1 twice but Lowell Washington countered the first time and Lewis drove for a layup to answer the second time. A driving jumper by sophomore point guard Calvin Allen increased the lead to 27-22 and the Hornets jumped into a press, forcing a five-second call and a turnover.
Though Allen picked up his fourth foul and had to come out, the Hornets extended the advantage to 29-24 going into the final 30 seconds of the third period.
That’s when things briefly melted down for Bryant. Riddick knocked down another 3 then the Hornets turned the ball over against the Panthers’ press. Riddick, feeling it, popped another troika with :09 showing. Another steal enabled Anderson to drive for a layup at the buzzer.
Suddenly, Bryant’s 5-point lead was a 3-point deficit.
Gamely, the Hornets responded once again. Martin knocked down a pair of free throws and, after a pair of misses by Lewis, Hunt scored and was fouled. With his team up 33-32, Hunt thought he missed his free throw and charged into the lane early to try to get to the carom. As it turned out, the free throw went in but was wiped out for a lane violation due to Hunt’s eagerness to get the ball back.
A free throw by Braden Warhurst tied it back up with 5:34 left in the game as Allen fouled out. Peters, however, untied it with a drive for a hoop. Moments later, Riddick bombed away again.
Trailing by a point, the Hornets regained the advantage as Hunt hit 3 of 4 free throws on back-to-back trips up the floor. Lewis blocked a shot by Anderson and got the ball to Peters who came back the other way and fed Washington for a bucket inside.
The Hornets had the 40-36 lead and, at the other end, was making the Panthers work for a shot. Finally, Marshall got a look from the right corner and got a fortunate carom off the backboard and the shot somehow went in from 3-point range.
Still Bryant led 40-39. A turnover cost them, however, as Anderson drove to the block and banked in a short jumper to put his team ahead 41-40 with 2:32 to go.
At the other end, Peters got to the basket but his shot rimmed out. With 1:32 left, Anderson was fouled. After a Bryant timeout, he drained both shots, starting his game-ending mastery at the charity stripe.
On free throws by Hunt and Martin, the Hornets were still right there with :55.3 to go. But Anderson bumped the 45-43 edge back up to a two-possession game. Shots wouldn’t fall for the Hornets and a couple of rushed turnovers didn’t help. The result was the free-throw parade that produced the final 10-point difference.
The Hornets are off now until they travel to Rogers Heritage on Monday, Nov. 24.