By Rob Patrick
GREENBRIER — Bryant Hornets freshman basketball coach Steve Wilson had a plan for his team's Central Arkansas Junior High Conference post-season tournament debut on Saturday, Feb. 14. Part of it had to do with the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition, Conway White. The other part concerned the starting time of the game.
"In a morning game, a lot of times the shots aren't falling," Wilson related, regarding the 10 a.m. tipoff at the Panther Pavilion at Greenbrier High School. "We were aware of that or I told (the players) that, but the only thing that kept us from taking it to the basket was ourselves. We should've taken it to the basket and got easier shots until we got into the flow. We didn't take advantage of that as much as we could've, I didn't think."
Not that the Junior Hornets didn't survive to play another day. They did, 49-39. But they just couldn't shake the Junior Wampus Cats until pulling away late.
The win improved Bryant to 15-8 on the season, going into a second-round game on Monday night at 7:45 against the winner of the first-round game between Searcy and Sheridan. It was the Hornets' seventh win in their last eight games.[more]
Two players that did take it to the hole wound up leading the Hornets in scoring. L.J. McLaughlin finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds while Jonathan Parks added 11 points and nine boards. Logan Trudell came off the bench to pitch in with 8, all in the first half.
Wilson lauded the play of that trio and added, "We did beat their press a few times and we survived. But we could've played a lot smarter."
The Hornets actually held an 11-point lead with 2:08 left in the game but Conway whittled it to 6, 45-39, going into the final 1:30. Charles Reese had a three-point play after grabbing an offensive rebound then, after a Bryant turnover, Justin Wolfe canned a driving jumper. But with 1:14 left, Parks hit a short jay in reply. Reese, who led the Cats with 13 points had a chance to answer at the line but missed the front end.
Spreading the floor on offense, the Hornets made Conway chase and Derek Johnson put the finishing touches on the win with a pair of free throws with :14.1 to go.
Bryant appeared to be on the verge of blowing the game up on several instances. A 7-0 start to the game was the first. Brantley Cozart worked a nice give-and-go with Cody McPherson to start the scoring with a layup. After Parks added a free throw and McLaughlin blocked a shot at the other end, McPherson hit the offensive glass for a bucket and, moments later, McLaughlin did the same.
It was 9-4 when Trudell entered and gave Bryant a spark knocking down back-to-back 3-pointers to push the margin to 11. Reese added a basket before the end of the period and Conway trailed 15-6.
Trudell added a pair of free throws in the second quarter to make it 17-6 but then the Cats made a run to get within 18-14. A chance to get closer was ruined by an illegal screen that cost them possession.
Though the Hornets went without a field goal in the quarter, they converted 7 of 9 free throws including two by Parks that got them back on track with :55.8 showing. Derek Johnson made a steal and was fouled moments later. He converted once to make it 21-14. Tyler Nelson added another charity toss with :04.2 left and the Hornets held an 8-point edge at the half.
Conway came out strong in the third quarter, however, and trimmed it backto 4, 24-20, and the Hornets had to bear down again on offense. Parks hit a 10-footer, Cozart made a steal and Parks cashed it in with a layup. After a Conway timeout, Wolfe hit a free throw but Nelson canned a 15-footer in response. And, with 1:01 left in the quarter, McLaughlin grabbed the carom off a teammate's miss, scored and was fouled. Completing the 3-point play gave the Hornets their largest lead of the game, 33-21.
It was 35-25 going into the fourth quarter and the Hornets maintained until that last Conway run fell short.