For more photos of this event by Kevin Nagle, go here
LITTLE ROCK — The Bryant Hornets knew they could play with the Little Rock Central Tigers going into their 7A-Central Conference game on Friday night. After all, it took a Central comeback and a shot at the end of overtime for the Tigers to survive at Bryant on Jan. 13.
And it was a similar tussle in the rematch — in the second half.
Though the first half was hard-fought by both teams, Central was buoyed by hot shooting including five 3-pointers while the Hornets struggled to find the range and to finish amidst the physical play around the rim.
The Tigers built a lead of as much as 18 points in the first half and, with a 3 to start the second half, increased the advantage to 20 before the Hornets kicked it in gear. They cut it to 9 but could get no closer as Central held on for a 68-54 victory.
“The first quarter was rough defensively, and offensively the whole first half,” acknowledged Hornets coach Mike Abrahamson. “I thought we started getting better defensively in the second quarter.”
Actually the Hornets trailed just 9-6 by the 3:42 mark of the opening period. Romen Martin had hit four free throws and Braylen Steen had scored inside off a nice feed from Lowell Washington.
But Steen’s basket at the 5:16 mark turned out the be the only field goal for the Hornets until the 4:18 mark of the second quarter when, off a steal by Kaleb Turner, point guard Calvin Allen hit a reverse layup. In between, however, the Tigers gradually put together a 16-2 blitz interrupted only by a pair of free throws by Garrett Cowart that had the Hornets within 20-10 at the moment.
“That start was rough,” Abrahamson said. “Central shoots it so well and they seemingly make every free throw. They score around the basket. They finished. They’re just tough. Give them credit.
“We talk about it all the time,” he added, “and we practice how to go up against contact, how to go up in traffic but it’s a totally different story when you’ve got 6-7, 6-5 who can jump out of the gym around you. It’s an experience you kind of have to go through more than once to get comfortable going against it.”
The Hornets got to the line in the second quarter but their shooting woes showed up there too when they left 6 points on the table, going 3 of 9 from the line.
The result was a 32-15 hole at the half. Cam Johnson, who scored 31 at Bryant and was on his way to a game-high 21 at Central, downed the 3 that started the second half to make it a 20-point margin.
Despite the Hornets’ effort on defense, the Tigers were finding a way to score inside and out.
It was 38-19 just over two minutes into the third quarter. That’s when Martin hit the team’s first 3, sparking a rally.
Steen got free for a layup to cut the margin to 14 and Central took a timeout. Though the Tigers’ Raekwon Rogers, who had 14 at Bryant and was held to just 5 at Central, blew a dunk, the Hornets missed twice trying to respond. A pull-up jumper in the lane by Donald Richardson increased the Tigers margin.
Steen scored again off a nice give-and-go with Turner. Central turned the ball over and Allen got to the line for two free throws, whittling the margin to 12.
Rogers hit a free throw but Allen found Steen and, off a Central turnover, Steen scored again and the Hornets trailed just 41-32.
Both teams turned the ball over with Jacobia Platt taking advantage of Bryant’s turnover, for a layup. Washington scored off a sparkling no-look pass from Martin but then Platt threw in his second 3 of the night.
Washington’s free throws made it a 10-point game but Platt added two from the line with no time left in the period to make it 48-36.
Johnson added to that before Allen sliced to a layup. Jakaylyn Jackson drained a 3, however, and Rogers got loose for a dunk and the Hornets found themselves down 55-38 with 4:39 left.
Washington was fouled at the 4:21 mark and, though he was unable to convert, Steen battled for the rebound and the Hornets eventually came up with the loose ball. A quick feed to Washington resulted in an answering dunk.
An offensive-rebound basket by Steen followed that up then both teams missed a couple of opportunities to change the 13-point difference before Richardson was fouled. He converted both as part of a 7-for-7 night at the line for him and a 19-of-23 performance by the Tigers.
But Allen dished to Martin for a 3 and, off a Central turnover, Washington scored off the offensive glass.
The Hornets had whittled the margin to 10 with 1:54 to go.
But the Tigers kept hitting their free throws as the Hornets tried to scramble on defense to force turnovers. Johnson hit a pair before Cowart found Martin for a layup off a back-door cut. Richardson hit two from the line then Allen drove for a layup.
But the Hornets couldn’t continue to trade baskets as time was running out. Abrahamson took a timeout with 1:17 to go. When play resumed, Steen nearly made a steal but the parade to the free-throw line continued for the Tigers, who were back up by 15 going into the final 40 seconds.
Martin’s three-point play capped off the Hornets’ scoring. Rogers got his second dunk in response to set the final score.
“I thought the second half, we got a lot more comfortable with (the physical play) and really did a lot better attacking the way they should attack, going up strong to the rim like they should with the right angle — things like that,” Abrahamson said. “We had a little bit better ball movement, a little bit more aggressiveness. We tried to take advantage a little bit more of their aggression and use it against them, get the ball around the basket.
“I just hope this is an experience that we can grow from because it wasn’t all negative,” the coach concluded. “We’ve just got to grow from it and get better.”
The Hornets host the Fort Smith Southside Mavericks on Tuesday. They could officially clinch a bid to the Class 7A State Tournament with a win.
TIGERS 68, HORNETS 54
Score by quarters
BRYANT 6 9 21 18 — 54
LR Central 19 13 16 20 — 68
HORNETS (15-8, 4-6) 54
Martin 4-13 6-7 16, Allen 4-11 2-4 10, Moody 0-1 0-0 0, Steen 8-16 0-4 16, Washington 4-11 2-4 10, Turner 0-2 0-0 0, Chumley 0-0 0-0 0, Cowart 0-0 2-2 2, Lambert 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 20-56 12-21 54.
TIGERS (15-9, 5-5) 68
C.Johnson 6-12 7-8 21, Dudley 2-3 0-0 6, Platt 4-8 2-2 12, Richardson 2-4 7-7 11, Rogers 1-4 3-6 5, Arnett 0-1 0-0 0, Jackson 3-5 0-0 9, Thomas 1-1 0-0 2, G.Johnson 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 20-40 19-23 68.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 2-12 (Martin 2-7, Steen 0-3, Moody 0-1, Lambert 0-1), LR Central 9-17 (Jackson 3-4, C.Johnson 2-4, Platt 2-4, Dudley 2-3, Richardson 0-1, Rogers 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 16, LR Central 20. Rebounds: Bryant 12-15 27 (Steen 4-7 11, Washington 5-3 8, Martin 0-3 3, Cowart 2-0 2, Allen 1-0 1, Moody 0-1 1, team 0-1 1), LR Central 5-26 31 (Rogers 3-5 8, Platt 0-5 5, Richardson 1-4 5, C.Johnson 1-3 4, Thomas 0-2 2, G.Johnson 0-2 2, Arnett 0-1 1, Jackson 0-1 1, team 0-3 3). Team fouls: Bryant 17, LR Central 16. Techical foul: Bryant bench.