Carroll hits game-winner in final seconds to lift Lady Hornets

CONWAY — The Bryant Lady Hornets, and particularly senior Lauren Carroll, have had a lot of success this season attacking the basket, scoring or getting fouled or both. But, on Thursday night, in the consolation bracket of the Bank of the Ozarks John Stanton Wampus Cat Invitational Tournament at Buzz Bolding Arena, they were struggling to get either against the Hot Springs Lady Trojans. The result of at least nine of Bryant’s drives wound up being a blocked shot.

Though some might contend they were fouled a few of those times, Hot Springs was cited for just one foul as a team in the first half and just nine in the game.

The Lady Hornets continued to attack and their perseverance paid off, ultimately when Carroll drove around a pair of Pine Bluff defenders, got to the rim and scored with :03 left to snap a 33-33 tie.

The game-winning basket was just Carroll’s third of the game after she’d scored 23 points in Tuesday’s contest against the Little Rock Hall Lady Warriors. That’s because she was the victim of more than one of those blocked shots.

That grit, determination and resilience by the senior and the rest of the Bryant team was evidenced further by the fact that in that game with Hall, they lost on a free throw with two seconds left.

They didn’t left that happen again as they rallied from an eight-point deficit early in the fourth quarter.

“We’ve lost a few times when it was a one, two or three-possession game,” noted Lady Hornets coach Brad Matthews. “This feels good. A few shots go in, you get a little momentum — it’s amazing how making shots is a little bit contagious.

“It’s a good win,” he emphasized. “When you’ve got a chance to win and you win — Lauren made a big bucket there at the end.

“We’re undersized,” the coach noted. “We work on shot fakes and shot fakes. I thought in the fourth quarter we actually used a couple of them. Maybe that’s one of the things we can take out of this game. This was really the first game where Lauren hasn’t been able to get to the rim with comfort. She was able to get there but (Hot Springs) was physical. They were blocking shots. They were contesting shots. That’s really when you’ve got to use your shot fake. But Lauren got to the rim there at the end and made a big shot.”

Carroll finished with 9 points and seven rebounds. Jakeria Otey had 7 points and eight boards. And the Lady Hornets got a big lift off the bench from Emily Ridgell who scored a season-high 11 points to go with five boards. She got inside a few times in the final quarter and scored using her off-hand. She also canned a 15-footer to snap a 31-31 tie with 1:13 to go.

“Emily’s getting a little bit better,” Matthews said. “She’s starting to get a few more minutes here and there and I’m hoping, by January, she can be a difference-maker for us. She’s another scorer. That little step-back jumper she hit from the free-throw line, that was big. She’s got that kind of skill. I’ve got to do a better job getting her in a position where she’s comfortable

“I thought Jakeria came up with some good rebounds and really gave good effort,” he added. “Jakeria’s just getting better and better. She’ll get more and more comfortable on the offensive end.”

Bryant’s comeback began when, with 4:34 left, Ridgell followed her own miss to cut into the 29-21 lead. The Lady Hornets jumped into a trapping defense and were able to get the ball out of the hands of point guard Berniezha Tidwell (6 points, six rebounds and a few of those blocks). Matthews said he had not wanted to use the traps earlier.

“(Tidwell) is so good,” he explained. “She’s a Division I signee with Sam Houston State, which is in the same conference as UCA. We worried about her getting out of traps and going and making plays. She’s really good in space. They weren’t really scoring a lot so we didn’t want to give her opportunities to make a shot and start getting into a rhythm. But, once we got down a little bit, we were able to pressure them a little bit.”

After Ridgell’s bucket, the Lady Hornets forced a turnover and Carroll made one more charge at the hoop and got her first points since the opening basket of the game. She also got fouled so her three-point play pulled the Lady Hornets within 3.

Hot Springs had two chances to add to that margin. Twice, post player Keyneso Hunter was fouled, the second time after she’d blocked a shot by Ridgell.

But on both trips to the line, she missed twice, leaving the door ajar for the Lady Hornets.

Ridgell cut the margin to 1 with a basket inside off a nice feed from Raija Todd. After Hot Springs’ Holly Eichelberger misfired, Otey was fouled. In the bonus, Otey went to the line to shoot a one-and-one only to have her first shot rim out. But Maddie Baxter made a steal that eventually led to a basket off the offensive glass by Carroll that gave the Lady Hornets a 30-29 lead, their first since early in the third quarter.

Otey followed up with a steal. Ridgell got to the free-throw line and converted but Hunter grabbed a teammate’s miss at the other end and scored to tie it with 1:34 left.

That led to Ridgell’s clutch step-back jay, which was countered by Tiaunna Watkins’ basket with :48 to go to knot it up once last time. Without calling a timeout, the Lady Hornets ran one of Matthews’ favorite plays. It didn’t produce the wide-open lane to the basket that it often does but Carroll made it work for the game-winner.

Bryant led most of the first half. A 3-pointer by Todd with :10 left in the first quarter gave the Lady Hornets a 7-3 lead going into the second period, a big shot in a defensive struggle.

After Hot Springs tied it early in the second period, Todd drilled another triple to keep Bryant on top. Otey followed a basket by Watkins with a score off an offensive rebound. Tidwell responded with a 12-footer but Otey beat the buzzer ending the half with a driving jumper and the Lady Hornets held a 14-11 edge at the break.

In the third quarter, however, Bryant struggled offensively. It didn’t help that six of the Hot Springs blocks came in the quarter. The Lady Hornets were 2 of 18 from the field but they got to the line for the first time in the game when Ridgell was fouled at the 4:20 mark.

That only interrupted a 14-4 run by the Lady Trojans. Their lead was 23-18 with 2:38 left in the period. Junior Rachel Miller came up with a clutch basket off the glass to snap a four-minute field-goal drought. Otey added a free throw but a layup by Watkins made it 27-21 going into the fourth quarter.

Hunter followed her own miss for the first basket of the final period, making it 29-21 before the Lady Hornets began their comeback.

The Lady Hornets will play in the fifth-place game of the tournament against the Searcy Lady Lions on Saturday at 1 p.m.

LADY HORNETS 35, LADY TROJANS 33

Score by quarters

BRYANT          7          7          7          14 — 35

Hot Springs    3          8          16       6 — 33

LADY HORNETS 35

Otey 3-15 1-3 7, Carroll 4-11 1-1 9, Baxter 0-2 0-0 0, Todd 2-12 0-0 6, Miller 1-1 0-0 2, Ridgell 4-9 3-4 11, Rogers 0-0 0-0 0, McDowell 0-0 0-0 0, Martin 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 14-50 (28%) 5-8 (63%) 35.

LADY TROJANS 33

Tidwell 3-11 0-0 6, Burkes 1-3 0-0 2, Watkins 4-10 0-0 9, Eichelberger 4-13 0-0 8, West 0-1 1-2 1, Hunter 3-7 1-7 7. Totals: 15-45 (33%) 2-9 (22%) 33.

Three-point field goals: Bryant 2-10 (Todd 2-5, Otey 0-3, Baxter 0-2), Hot Springs 1-5 (Watkins 1-1, Tidwell 0-3, West 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 9, Hot Springs 14. Rebounds: Bryant 16-19 35 (Otey 3-5 8, Carroll 3-4 7, Ridgell 3-2 5, Miller 1-3 4, Todd 1-2 3, Baxter 1-1 2, Rogers 0-1 1, team 4-1 5), Hot Springs 15-22 37 (Hunter 6-6 12, Tidwell 1-5 6, Burkes 2-4 6, Watkins 2-2 4, Eichelberger 2-2 4, West 1-1 2, team 1-2 3). Team fouls: Bryant 14, Hot Springs 9. Fouled out: Bryant, Baxter.

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