Bryant freshmen stun Lake Hamilton behind Hunt’s clutch bucket in the final seconds

Dagan Carden (41), Jaelynn Jones (25) and Even Lee (20) defend against Lake Hamilton's Taylor Hughes, left, and Parker Knapp. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)By Rob Patrick

Photos by Kevin Nagle

With the Bryant Hornets freshman team trailing 35-34 and time running out, guard Kevin Hunt[more] split a pair of Lake Hamilton defenders as he drove into the lane Thursday night at the Bryant Middle School gym. Confronted with a third defender, he pulled up and lofted a soft jumper that found the mark with :05 left.

Simeon Watson pushes the ball past Lake Hamilton defender Stefan Dailey. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

The Hornets celebrated as they came to the bench when Lake Hamilton called a timeout with :03.6 and, when Jaelynn Jones intercepted a pass at the buzzer, they celebrated again with a thrilling 36-35 win.

It was the first in Central Arkansas Junior High Conference play for Bryant and it came against a team that figured to be one of the best in the league, a team that had beaten them twice by significant margins. On Nov. 15, the Wolves handed the Hornets a 46-26 loss. On Nov. 26, they ripped Bryant again 51-34.

Of course, that added to the sweetness of the victory. And it may serve as a turning point in the season for the Hornets as they head down the stretch — five conference games then the league’s post-season tournament at Cabot.

“I’m really proud of the kids,” stated Bryant coach Mike Simmons. “Since the Benton game (a 38-24 loss on Monday), we’ve had two really hard practices where we really got after it. And we talked about being a better team and things that good teams do as far as supporting each other and working together and complimenting each other, the bench being with it and all that. It was good to have two days of practice with everything good and positive, and then coming out in a game doing those things too. It kind of tells the kids we’re doing things the right way and we can build on that.”

The Hornets did indeed respond positively, displaying a renewed energy and enthusiasm while playing as much as a team as they had all year.

“It’s a really good win,” Simmons noted. “This should be a confidence boost for these kids. They’re just learning how to play together now and trust each other a little bit. Hopefully, we can really build on it and make some waves along the way as far as gaining that fourth or fifth seed and maybe win us a couple of games at the conference tournament — just end up the season in the right way by playing our best at the end.”

They’ll get a chance to see if they can keep it going in their next outing at Conway White on Thursday, Jan. 24.

And no one else had more than 5 points for the Wolves, who came into the game off another one-point loss on Monday against Conway Blue.Defense was key for the Hornets. Though Lake Hamilton’s star Jason Burks got 17 points and nine rebounds, he sat for a stretch during the second half after making a few frustrations mistakes.

The Hornets got 12 points from Kris Croom who did a better job of letting the game come to him a little more, rather than forcing some things. Cameron Murray added 10 points and seven rebounds in the head-up match with Burks.

Kris Croom fires up a short jumper over Lake Hamilton's Dallas Baldwin (3) as teammate Cameron Murray (55) sets up to go after the rebound. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

Bryant had struggled to get the ball to Murray in the loss to Benton. It was apparent they’d worked on additional ways to get him the ball inside.

Hunt finished with 8 points. Simeon Watson, Jones and Evan Lee scored 2 points each.

Bryant gained the upper hand in the game with a 9-1 run to end the first half. Trailing 12-10, the Hornets gained possession when Jordan Walker set up defensively and took a charge as Lake Hamilton’s Dallas Baldwin drove to the rack.

On the resulting possession, Croom was fouled and hit a free throw to trim the lead to 1.

Moments later, Croom made a steal and Hunt knocked down a 3-point bomb from NBA range to put give his team the lead.

After Burks was unable to get a free throw to go, the two teams battled into the final two minutes of the half before Hunt hit a free throw and added a driving layup off a feed from Croom to extend the lead to 17-12.

Jordan Hughes hit a free throw for the wolves but Croom’s pull-up pop in the lane made it 19-13 going into the break.

To add to the run, the Hornets came out in the second half and worked the high-low post effectively as Clay Ingold fed Murray for a basket. Burks and Murray traded baskets then Burks turned in a three-point play to cut the margin to 23-18. Croom, however, answered with a 3-pointer.

The Hornets were up 28-22 late in the third quarter. Murray hit a jump hook then Croom got a layup off a steal and dish by Watson, giving them their first double-digit advantage, 32-22.

It was about that time that Burks took a rest and the other Wolves responded. Baldwin hit a jumper to end the third period then they opened the fourth with a 7-0 run that cut the margin to 32-31.

Hughes had a chance at the line to tie it or give Lake Hamilton the lead with 2:18 to go but he missed the front end. Croom was fouled with 2:04 to go and converted twice. The Hornets forced a turnover but an illegal screen cost them a chance to extend the lead or eat much time.

By then Burks had returned and he scored as he was fouled with 1:30 left. But his chance to complete the three-point play and tie the game failed to develop as he missed the free throw.

Hughes, however, rebounded but the Hornets took it away from him. A Bryant miss was rebounded by Hughes with 1:08 left and he got another chance at the line only to miss the front end once more.

The Hornets had two shots at extending the advantage but couldn’t get either to fall as the game clock ticked down to less than :30. Off the second miss, Burks rebounded and drove coast to coast for a layup that gave the Wolves the 35-34 lead with :20 left.

Simmons called a timeout with :18.3 to go and the Hornets worked the ball until Hunt found the seam in the Wolves’ defense that led to his game-winning bucket.

Bryant's Alex Oneal tries to work around Lake Hamilton's Dallas Baldwin. (Photo by Kevin Nagle)

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