By Rob Patrick
The first time the Bryant Hornets freshman team met the Conway White Wampus Kittens this season, the championship of[more] the Bryant Invitational Tournament was on the line. Bryant won 36-31 to earn the first of an unprecedented two tournament titles this season. (They later won a tourney at Lake Hamilton.)
The second time the two teams met was at Conway in a non-conference game on Dec. 1 and the Kittens prevailed 33-29 starting a stretch in which the Hornets lost three of four games.
So when Conway White came to Bryant again on Monday night, it was the rubber game of the three-game matchup. This time, it would count in the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference and the Hornets had a seven-game winning streak on the line.
Make it eight.
Conway White, along with Little Rock Catholic, Conway Blue and North Little Rock, all with one conference loss coming into the night, were all looking to pull into a tie for first with a Conway White win over Bryant. But the Hornets kept their league mark unblemished and their hold on sole possession of first with a 42-34 win.
Now 14-4 overall, Bryant heads to Cabot South on Thursday.
“It was a good win,” acknowledged Hornets coach Jim Pennington. “Conway White’s got a good ballclub. I thought the kids started out real well.”
Conway White took a 4-0 lead to start the game but then Bryant reeled off a 14-0 run with K.J. Hill scorching the net for all 14 points with his teammates recognizing his hot hand and feeding him.
The Kittens had chances to increase that 4-0 lead but on consecutive possessions, Bryant’s John Winn stood in defensively and took charges. After the second, Hill got to the line and hit a free throw to break the ice for the Hornets with 2:47 left in the first quarter.
He followed up with a three-point play and, after a Conway miss, drilled a 3-pointer from the left corner to give the Hornets a lead at 7-4 that they would not relinquish.
In the final minute of the period, Hill canned another triple, this time from the wing. Brandan Warner followed with a steal and fed Hill for a layup to make it 12-4 going into the second period.
A driving layup by Hill extended the run to 14-0 before Colton Jackson ended Conway White’s quarter-long drought. In turn, Hill fed J.C. Newborn for a layup then took a charge himself to stop a drive by Conway’s Adrian Moore.
Warner got involved in the scoring before the end of the half, knocking down the first of his three treys in the game as the lead reached 20-8. A follow by Conway’s Kennedy King made it a 10-point game at the half.
“K.J. hit a couple of big 3’s and Brandan finally got on track with three big 3’s,” Pennington said. “If he would do that and John, we’d be tough to beat.
“We did a good job defensively,” the coach added. “Conway White’s a very talented offensive team. They’re very athletic.”
Ryan Hall scored the first bucket of the second half, off a lob from Winn and the two teams started trading points. Warner knocked down two more 3’s in the third period and Bryant took a 30-19 lead to the final six minutes.
For Conway, Moore started heating up on his way to a 22-point night, matching Hill for game-high honors. Warner finished with 11 points while no one for Conway White had more than Jevante Ellis’ 5.
Hill fed Winn for a layup that burned the Conway press to start the fourth quarter. Moore answered with a driving jumper but Newborn followed his own miss in response. And when Hill found Warner for an easy bucket, the Hornets had their largest lead at 36-21 with 3:48 left to go.
The Hornets struggled at the free-throw line down the stretch and Conway White took advantage enough to cut the lead to 7 in the final minute. Finally Hill and Winn came through with clinching free throws to counter Moore’s 14-point quarter.
“The last three or four minutes of the game, we just kind of stopped playing defense,” Pennington mentioned. “Of course, we’re trying to keep the clock running but we’ve got to do a better job of getting down and keeping them in front of us. Moore really turned it on in the fourth quarter and beat us off penetration and rebounding.
“And our free throws in the fourth quarter, we were 6 of 14. We’ve got to do a better job than that,” he added, “especially when we’re ahead. But give Conway White credit. They did a good job there in the fourth quarter trying to do what they could.
“It was a good win,” the coach concluded. “We’re 4-0 in conference and gives them two losses now. We’ve got four games left and we’ve got to take them one game at a time. If we can do that, we’ll be in good shape for the tournament. I’m proud of these guys.”
JUNIOR HORNETS 42, WAMPUS KITTENS 34
Score by quarters
Conway White 4 6 9 15 — 34
BRYANT 12 8 10 12 — 42
WAMPUS KITTENS 34
Stewart 0-5 1-4 1, Moore 9-15 4-7 22, Ellis 2-11 0-0 5, King 1-5 0-0 2, Jackson 2-3 0-0 4, Johnson 0-2 0-0 0, Mitchell 0-0 0-0 0, Longing 0-2 0-0 0, Garlington 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 14-43 5-11 34.
JUNIOR HORNETS 42
Winn 1-2 1-2 3, Warner 4-5 0-0 11, Hall 1-2 0-3 2, Newborn 2-7 0-2 4, Hill 5-9 10-15 22, Withers 0-0 0-0 0. Total 13-25 11-22 42.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 5-8 (Warner 3-4, Hill 2-2, Winn 0-1, Newborn 0-1), Conway White 1-13 (Ellis 1-5, Stewart 0-4, Longing 0-2, Moore 0-1, King 0-1). Rebounds: Bryant 23 (Hill 8, Newborn 6), Conway White 30 (Moore 9). Turnovers: Bryant 10, Conway White 9. Team fouls: Bryant 12, Conway White 20. Fouled out: Conway White Ellis, Johnson.