When they played the first time on Jan. 24, the Bryant Hornets spotted the North Little Rock Charging Wildcats 15 points to start the game. Gradually, they clawed back and, at the end, they had a shot to tie or win the game only to absorb a 61-59 loss to the Cats.
In the return engagement, North Little Rock never quite managed a lead of that size but, again, had the upper hand until the Hornets whittled a double-digit lead down to 3 in the third quarter and 4 in the fourth quarter.
The Charging Wildcats, however, would not relinquish the lead on the way to a 70-61 victory at the Hornets Nest, putting a damper on Bryant’s Senior Night.
“They’re really good,” stated Bryant head coach Mike Abrahamson. “They clinched the conference championship this year, which — wow, what a feat that is. That says so much about them as a team and what type of players they have. They’re well-coached and they do things that really fit their personnel. It’s real impressive. That’s why only one team has beaten them in the conference. And this is the most brutal conference any of us have ever seen.
“I mean, they’re so tough to guard,” he added. “So, even if we do a great job (on defense), they’re still going to score a fair share of points. And when they don’t score off the shot they get, they’re just so good at going and getting the offensive rebound. They’re so athletic and long and they jump. There’s just so little room for error when you play them. You have to really execute, get them to take a contested shot that they settle for. Then you’ve got to get that rebound. If you don’t do that, they’re scoring, one way or the other.”
While North Little Rock, ranked No. 1 among Class 7A schools and third in the state overall, secured the top seed from the 7A-Central Conference for the State Tournament in Van Buren, the Hornets will be a No. 5 or No. 6 seed depending on the outcome on Friday in their regular-season finale at Conway. To gain the 5 seed, Bryant must beat the Wampus Cats by more than the 6-point difference that Conway enjoyed at their end of their game with the Hornets on Jan. 27.
The fifth seeded team will open State on Wednesday, March 1, at 2:30 p.m. against the fourth-seeded team from the 7A-West (could be Van Buren, Rogers Heritage or Fayetteville) with the winner getting North Little Rock the next day.
The sixth seeded team will open State on Thursday, March 2, at 2:30 p.m., against the third seed from the West, which will probably be Van Buren or Heritage. The winner would play Fort Smith Northside the next day, after the Grizzlies clinched the 2 seed from the Central with a win over Cabot on Tuesday night.
North Little Rock led most of the way against the Hornets on Tuesday. Shawn Fudge hit the first of his trio of 3’s in the game to start the scoring but Bryant’s Braylen Steen hit a base-line jumper off a feed from Calvin Allen and, off a steal, Romen Martin drove for a layup and a 4-3 lead.
But when Collin Moore answered with a layup, North Little Rock was ahead to stay.
Steen, on his way to a game-high 25 points, hit a stickback and, later, a 3-pointer that had Bryant within 11-9. But a 3 by former Hornet Desmond Duckworth, a steal by Deion Dobbins and a layup by Jarvis Ricks made it 16-9 going into the second quarter.
The teams traded buckets in the second quarter. The Hornets, who finished the night with nine 3’s, got triples from Allen, Steen and Sam Chumley during the period. With 1:26 left in the half, Martin, who finished with 18 points, scored off a drive to the rack and Bryant was within 30-27.
But as they did all night, the Charging Wildcats closed out the quarter well. Moore hit a pair of free throws and, after a Bryant miss, Duckworth beat the buzzer with a baseline jumper to make it 34-27 at the intermission.
“As for our team, when they were able to execute what was called of them, we were able to score and stop them,” said Abrahamson. “But we gave up a lot of layups. That’s not a recipe to win.
“We just don’t have the urgency defensively to match up,” he continued. “We’re jump-stopping instead of closing out, getting beat off the dribble. We’re not anticipating our next rotation that well. And we’re not jumping for defensive rebounds and blocking out. We watch them. And we’re still touch-fouling.”
The Hornets forced 17 turnovers, while committing 15 but North Little Rock not only won the rebound battle with 30 to Bryant’s 22 but half of those 30 rebounds came on the offensive end.
One of those stickbacks came early in the third quarter by Moore. Fudge hit a 3 and the Wildcats extended the lead to 13. Martin hit a 3 at the 6:26 mark of the quarter for the Hornets’ first points of the half.
Morris, a 6-3 sophomore who led the Cats with 17 points, had a dunk that had his team up 44-34 midway through the period. Steen scored three consecutive layups off eye-popping assists from Garrett Cowart and Chumley. And when Martin followed up with a 3 with 1:14 left, the Hornets had whittled the lead to 44-41.
Ricks and Martin traded layups but a tip-in at the buzzer to end the quarter extended the North Little Rock margin to 48-43 going into the final eight minutes.
Decorey Watson scored first in the fourth quarter then Chumley answered with a 3-pointer that had the Hornets down 50-46. A 3 from Duckworth made it 53-46 then the best the Hornets could do was trade baskets with the Wildcats, who eventually pushed the lead to 11.
“Offensively, we scored 61 points,” acknowledged Abrahamson. “I thought we did some good things offensively. Defensively, it was really bad.
“We’ll continue to try to get better,” he concluded.
CHARGING WILDCATS 70, LADY HORNETS 61
Score by quarters
North Little Rock 16 18 14 22 — 70
BRYANT 9 18 16 18 — 61
CHARGING WILDCATS (22-5, 12-1) 70
Ricks 7-11 1-2 15, Dobbins 3-6 0-0 6, Walker 0-2 0-0 0, Moore 7-8 3-3 17, Fudge 5-8 1-2 14, Duckworth 3-6 0-0 8, Watkins 1-3 0-0 2, Fresh 0-1 0-0 0, Sheppard 3-6 2-2 8. Totals 29-51 7-9 70.
HORNETS (16-10, 5-8) 61
Martin 7-15 0-1 18, Allen 2-7 0-0 5, Moody 1-3 0-0 2, Steen 8-12 7-8 25, Washington 2-6 1-2 5, Cowart 0-0 0-0 0, McIntosh 0-0 0-0 0, Turner 0-2 0-0 0, Canada 0-0 0-0 0, Chumley 2-3 0-0 6, Lambert 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-48 8-11 61.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 9-22 (Martin 4-12, Steen 2-3, Chumley 2-2, Allen 1-3, Moody 0-1, Turner 0-1), North Little Rock 5-12 (Fudge 3-3, Duckworth 2-5, Ricks 0-2, Walker 0-2). Turnovers: Bryant 15, North Little Rock 17. Rebounds: Bryant 13-9 22 (Steen 4-1 5, Moody 2-2 4, Martin 1-2 3, Washington 2-0 2, Cowart 1-1 2, Chumley 1-1 2, Turner 0-1 1, team 1-1 2), North Little Rock 15-15 30 (Ricks 1-5 6, Sheppard 5-1 6, Moore 1-3 4, Fudge 4-0 4, Dobbins 1-1 2, Fresh 1-1 2, Walker 0-1 1, Duckworth 0-1 1). Team fouls: Bryant 14, North Little Rock 12.