CONWAY — Back on Dec. 7, 2015, the Conway Blue Wampus Cats freshman basketball team came to Bryant and delivered a 46-44 punch to the Hornets’ proverbial guts. Fast forward to Thursday night, Jan. 28, when the Hornets made the return trip to Conway, this time for a Central Arkansas Junior High Conference battle.
It was a far different scenario that unfolded at Buzz Bolding Arena. With nine of the 12 players that got into the game contributing to the scoring, the Hornets ran away from the Cats, 53-32.
The result put the second tier of the league standings in a muddle. Conway White and North Little Rock remain unbeaten but three teams, including Bryant, follow with two losses and three more with three setbacks, including Conway Blue.
The difference in the scores is an indication of how far the Hornets have come. It’s an unusual situation in Bryant where the freshman level is where two teams — seventh and eighth grade squads from Bryant Middle School and Bethel Middle School — have to mesh into one unit. Almost every year, that takes time. Sometimes it never quite jells but often, by conference season, things start to click.
“I really felt good about the last couple of weeks of practice that we’ve had together,” said Hornets coach Tyler Posey. “I think these kids are starting to grow and learn from the mistakes in the early part of the year and it’s really shown on the court from their effort and work in practice.”
The balanced scoring provides an indication. Randy Thomas had 11 points and eight rebounds. Rodney Lambert and Kajuan Robinson added 9 points each with Robinson finishing with seven boards and Lambert dishing out five assists.
Despite foul trouble, Blaise Smith produced 7 points including 6 in the second quarter when the Hornets made their initial push. Henry Terry scored 5, Daelin Drake and Alex Blair 4 each with Tyler O’Neal and Maleek McClendon 2 each.
But it was the team’s defense that Posey noted.
“I think since we started switching defenses, the guys have really bought into what we’ve been doing,” he said. “Their man-to-man defense has gotten a lot better throughout the year and we added in zone and I think every part of our defense has been just a little bit better since we kind of mixed it up and tried to confuse offenses.
Asked if it was the best his team has played this season, the coach added, “That’s pretty good right there. I don’t recall a better game than that. We really got after it starting in the second quarter. We caused a lot of turnovers and made a lot of shots to push that lead on up.”
The Hornets shot 49 percent from the field (20 of 41) while holding Conway Blue under 28 percent (12 of 43). No one had more than 6 points for the Blue.
As Posey indicated, it was close in the first quarter. The Cats led 7-4 but Bryant caught up with an offensive rebound bucket by Kajuan Robinson and a layup by Terry off a feed from Lambert.
Kyle Green scored off the offensive glass for Conway Blue to give his team a 9-8 edge. But when Thomas hit a short jumper to regain the upper hand for the Hornets, the Wampus Cats never led again.
Lambert hit a 3 but Conway knocked down back-to-back shots to tie it at 13. With :02.6 showing, however, Thomas grabbed the carom off a teammate’s miss and was fouled. His free throws put the Hornets ahead to stay.
Smith scored on a nice step-in move in the post to start the second quarter. Conway Blue answered with a 3 to cut the lead to 17-16 but the Cats were unable to hit another field goal until the final minute of the half.
In the interim, Smith hit a layup off a feed from Lambert and knocked down a turnaround jumper as a 14-0 run began. Lambert converted a pair of free throws then Blair had back-to-back buckets. Drake scored off another dish from Lambert and it was suddenly 31-16.
It was 31-19 at the half. Terry and Thomas opened the second half with consecutive 3’s and Robinson added a free throw. The Hornets had doubled up the Cats, 38-19.
Gamely, Conway whittled the lead to 15 before Thomas hit a layup and Smith added a free throw in the final 30 seconds of the quarter. It was 45-27 going into the final six minutes.
Blair and Drake worked a nice give-and-go for another bucket for Drake to start the fourth quarter. That gave Bryant its first 20-point advantage. The largest margin was the final with McClendon capping off the scoring by knocking down a 10-foot jumper in the closing seconds.
The Hornets will try to ride the momentum as they enter the final two weeks of the season. They’re set to play Little Rock Catholic at Mount St. Mary Academy on Monday. They make up a showed out game at Lake Hamilton on Tuesday before finishing the season with three home games.