Clutch free-throw shooting helps Lady Hornets escape with win over Belles
EDITOR’S NOTE: Because the look back at each day in Bryant athletic history has been so favorably received during the time when there was no sports during the COVID-19 shutdown, BryantDaily.com will continueposting past stories of Bryant athletics either posted on BryantDaily.com (from 2009 to the present) or published in the Bryant Times (from 1998 to 2008).
By Rob Patrick
LITTLE ROCK — They call them “free” for a reason.
Think about it: The game literally stops. Everybody backs off a little. There’s no defense in your face, no double-team to beat. You stand there 13 feet from the rim, 15 feet from the backboard. The officials toss you the ball and let you have at it.
Of course, free throws bring their own kind of pressure. It takes concentration, good touch, some confidence and, particularly in a hostile environment, some experience to make good on the opportunities.
On Friday, against an inspired Mount St. Mary Academy Belles team at their unique, acoustically-challenging McAuley Center, the Bryant Lady Hornets had all that. The result was an 18-of-21 performance at the line that helped them escape with a 59-50 victory.[more]
In fact, Bryant’s last 12 points in the game came from the free-throw line. And, in the final minute, Alana Morris converted 3 of 4 and Haley Montgomery knocked down 4 of 4 while the Lady Hornets’ defense was snuffing out the Belles’ rally. Mount St. Mary had whittled a 43-29 deficit late in the third quarter down to 52-50 with 1:11 left in the game.Morris hit a free throw with :59.6 to go. At the other end, a turnover cost the Belles as guard Summer Khairi fell or tripped working around a screen that brought four players together.
With :34.3 to go, Montgomery tossed in a pair to make it a two-possession game. Khairi couldn’t get a 3 to go and Morris was fouled at the :26.2 mark. After a Mount timeout, Morris converted both shots to make it 57-50. Amber Westbrook missed another 3-point try and, with :11.4 on the clock, “quick-draw” Montgomery drained two more from the line to set the final score.
Morris finished with a game-high 19 points and eight rebounds. Montgomery had 15 points, Shanika Johnson 9, Hannah Goshien 8 and Kenzee Calley 6. Westbrook led the Belles with 15.
The win kept Bryant tied for second place in the 7A-Central Conference, joining Conway at 6-2 versus the league. The Lady Hornets improved to 18-3 overall this season going into a home conference game on Tuesday against an upstart Van Buren team that surprised fourth-place Little Rock Central Friday night.
The Lady Hornets had bounced Mount 47-30 at home to start the conference season but head coach Blake Condley said, he figured it would be much tougher at McAuley.
“When I went back and looked at the film, the first time we played them, they missed a ton of shots that I’ve seen them make in other games,” he related. “I thought if they make those shots it makes it a much tougher game. They hit five 3’s in the first half and that made it tough. But we matched that, kind of balanced that out.
“I told the girls after the game that I think, playing a close game, having to withstand that is going to help us in the long run more than a 25- or 30-point blowout,” Condley added. “Our free-throw shooting was the difference in the game.”
In fact, both teams converted 18 field goals and the Belles had six 3’s to Bryant’s five. But, despite playing on their home floor, the Belles converted just 8 of 18 from the line so that was, in pure numbers, the stark difference in the contest.
“I was pleased with our half-court defense,” Condley mentioned. “They were breaking our press pretty easy but I thought when we went back and started playing some half-court man, the girls did a really good job. We haven’t done that a lot this year but we’ve been trying to work on that in practice some and I thought they did a good job, making them have to take tough shots. There were a few breakdowns we had but, for the most part, I felt like we got stops when we needed to.”
The Lady Hornets started in a zone but the 3-point shooting by the Belles forced them out. And when Bryant’s starting post Abbi Stearns got into early foul trouble, the Belles had a size advantage inside. So Condley had his team’s man defense sloughing off to help inside then running out to contest the outside shooters. And it proved effective.
“That’s how we have to play whenever teams are bigger than we are,” Condley related. “We’ve got to give a lot of help inside and then just do the best you can closing out. To me, the percentages, that’s the shot you’d rather them take outside. All you can do is run at them with a hand up and if they hit it, well, they just hit a good shot.”
Bryant grabbed a 10-5 lead early but Westbrook, Hollyn Hum and Kaileigh Taylor hit consecutive 3’s to put the Belles in front. Hum added a free throw after making a steal to make it 14-10.
Johnson gunned in a 3 in the final seconds, however, to make it a 1-point game going into the second quarter.
And when Montgomery hit two free throws to start the scoring in the second half, the Lady Hornets were back in front. Westbrook hit a 3 but the 17-15 lead that produced for the Belles was their last. Goshien’s 3 put Bryant back on top and, though Hum tied it with a free throw, Stearns put Bryant ahead to stay on an inbounds feed from Morris.
Catie McAlister had a chance to tie it at the free throw line but missed both shots, part of a 2-for-10 quarter from the line for the Belles.
A driving jumper by Morris and a nice spin move for a bucket by Goshien had Bryant up by 6. After Emily Sprick missed a pair at the line, Johnson fired in her third trey of the half to make it 27-18.
The Lady Hornets led 31-22 at the break.
It was still a 9-point game with 2:36 to play in the third quarter when Goshien connected on her second triple. Montgomery followed up with a steal and a layup which produced the team’s largest lead of the game.
Westbrook’s stickback and Hum’s 3 before the end of the period had the Belles within 9 again, 43-34, going into the final eight minutes.
Bryant still led 50-42 as late as the 3:56 mark. That’s when McAlister, who had missed her first five shots from the field and all four of her free-throw attempts, sparked her team’s comeback. She drove for a layup and, after a Bryant miss, Khairi hit a baseline jumper that trimmed the lead to 50-46.
After a timeout by the Lady Hornets, the Belles forced a turnover to get a chance to get closer but Westbrook couldn’t get a shot to go and Montgomery was fouled. Her two free throws — part of her 9-for-10 performance at the line in the game — were followed by another basket by McAlister. Morris misfired and, moments later, McAlister got the ball inside and was fouled. This time, she converted both shots and the Bryant lead was down to 52-50. But those were the last points for the Belles.
LADY HORNETS 59, BELLES 50
Score by quarters
BRYANT 13 18 12 16 — 59
Mount St. Mary 14 8 12 16 — 50
LADY HORNETS (18-3, 6-2) 59
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Montgomery 3-7 9-10 2-1 3 1 15
Goshien 3-7 0-0 3-1 4 2 8
Calley 2-5 2-2 1-4 5 1 6
Stearns 1-3 0-0 2-3 5 5 2
Morris 6-13 7-9 1-7 8 3 19
Parish 0-0 0-0 0-3 3 0 0
Johnson 3-8 0-0 0-1 1 2 9
Team 2-1 3
Total 18-43 18-21 11-21 32 14 59
BELLES (8-12, 1-7) 50
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Taylor 2-9 0-0 2-1 3 4 6
Khairi 1-5 0-0 0-2 2 4 2
Hum 3-6 2-4 1-2 3 1 9
Westbrook 6-9 0-0 2-3 5 3 15
Sprick 2-6 4-8 1-1 2 4 8
McAlister 3-8 2-6 2-5 7 3 8
Stafford 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 0
Hagen 1-2 0-0 0-0 0 0 2
Team 2-3 5
Total 18-45 8-18 10-17 27 20 50
Three-point field goals: Bryant 5-12 (Johnson 3-5, Goshien 2-5, Montgomery 0-2), Mount St. Mary 6-17 (Westbrook 3-4, Taylor 2-7, Hum 1-3, Khairi 0-2). Turnovers: Bryant 16, Mount St. Mary 13.