Clutch free throws in the final minute lift Hornets past Rockets

NORTH LITTLE ROCK — With the outcome on the line, Kevin Hunt and Wesley Peters converted six free throws in the final minute as the Bryant Hornets earned a 35-30 win over the Little Rock Catholic Rockets to wrap up play in the annual OrthoArkansas/CAC Invitational Tournament at Central Arkansas Christian Academy on Saturday afternoon.

It was the first of at least three meetings between the Hornets and the Rockets, rivals in the revised 7A/6A-Central Conference this season. Though a mixed classification league, the way the Arkansas Activities Association has ruled this year, only league games against teams in the same classification will count toward qualifying for State tournament play. Three of the four Class 7A teams in the conference will advance to State and the next two meetings between the Hornets and Rockets will be a part of that.

If Saturday’s game was any indication, they’ll be wars at Bryant on Jan. 13, 2015, and at Catholic on Feb. 10.

“Our season’s going to come down to six games, basically, to get into the State tournament, and two of them are going to be against (Catholic),” acknowledged Hornets coach Mike Abrahamson. “It’s going to be a fight. I’m not really looking forward to it.

“But I’m really happy with how our kids are progressing,” he asserted. “The wins obviously feel good but seeing us progressing and getting better is the key thing.

“It’s good for the kids to see their work pay off because when you don’t, you don’t want them to get down and discouraged and quit giving that effort,” the coach added. “I hope I’m going to be the same either way but the kids, they need that.”

The Hornets led most of the game, by as much as 12 early in the second half. But the Rockets scrambled to get back into the game. They tied it late in the third quarter but couldn’t gain the lead.

It was knotted at 29 when Catholic’s William Hancock hit a layup with 4:42 left to play. The Rockets dropped back into their zone defense and, with going the other way, Abrahamson decided to have his team hold the ball.

“We were in foul trouble,” he explained. “We weren’t scoring the second half. They were on a run. They were scoring. We couldn’t seem to stop them. And I wanted to see if they’d come out and get us because that would kind of play into our hands a little bit better. And they didn’t. So I said, ‘Well, we’ll just take a last shot.’”

The Rockets extended the defense with about 2:30 left but the Hornets continued to be patient, spreading the floor and making them chase. With :50.8 left, Hunt was driving through the line and was knocked down. With a one-and-one chance at the line, the junior calmly knocked down both shots to give his team a 31-29 lead.

At the other end, the Rockets’ Davis Fox missed a 3-point try. Hunt rebounded and got the ball ahead to Peters who was fouled going up to catch the ball on the right sideline.

It was the fifth foul on Catholic point guard Chad Wharton and Rockets head coach Todd Ezzi took the full minute before re-inserting Fox, trying to freeze Peters, who was set to shoot another one-and-one with :17.7 showing on the clock.

It didn’t have the desired effect, however, as Peters coolly drained both shots to make it a two-possession game, 33-29.

With :11.5 to go, Hancock was fouled on a drive. After Abrahamson called a timeout, Hancock missed the first of his two shots. He made the second to make it 33-30.

The Rockets fouled right away as Peters took the inbounds play. In the double bonus, Peters again came through to seal the win.

“I was real proud of our kids,” Abrahamson asserted. “They didn’t flinch when I decided to hold it. They didn’t question me. They didn’t panic. They didn’t flinch. They just said okay. That’s a good growth moment for us. That was a good sign for me. And they made the plays.

“That (holding the ball) is one of those things where I take all the criticism if it doesn’t work but they made the plays to make it work,” he observed. “I was really proud of them.”

It was the second win in a row, second in as many days for the Hornets, now 2-3 going into the annual Bank of the Ozarks/John Stanton Memorial Wampus Cat Invitational Tournament in Conway on Monday at 5:30 p.m., against Hot Springs. Bryant outlasted Maumelle 56-51 on Friday.

“Last night, it was about slowing our opponent down and tonight it was a little bit about speeding them up,” Abrahamson said. “It was a little bit about just making them uncomfortable. I’m impressed and encouraged that we could do it in two different ways. One was handling an onslaught of pressure and not turning it over and making some free throws. Tonight, it’s holding it for four minutes and making some free throws.

“After three games in this tournament, I think we’re clearly better than we were when we played in Rogers (Nov. 24),” he added. “That’s what you want to see. It’s a process. Even if we lose, are we getting better? That’s really what it’s all about.”

Romen Martin led the Hornets on Saturday with 10 points. Peters had 8, Hunt 7. Antavious Lewis and Marvin Moody had 3 points each. Lowell Washington and Christian McIntosh 2 apiece.

Lance Harville-Thomas scored 13 and Hancock 10 for the Rockets who were without 6-6 post player Trey Purifoy who rolled an ankle in warm-ups prior to the game.

Points were hard to come by early. Hunt hit an eight-footer in the first minute but it took nearly half of the quarter before anyone else scored. And then it was Hunt again with a 3-pointer to make it 5-0.

The Rockets cut it to 5-4 but then Martin drained a triple to start a 6-0 run. He would add a free throw and Peters would score off a drive to the rack before Wharton closed out the quarter with a pair of free throws, making it 11-6.

Hancock trimmed a free throw off the margin early in the second quarter but Lewis came through with a three-point play off a move to the hole. McIntosh popped a 12-footer and it was 16-7.

The Hornets wound up with four players on the bench with two fouls each before the half was over but the Hornets maintained with quality minutes off the bench from Peters, McIntosh, Moody, Ketrick Wilson, Kaleb Turner and Detavious Moore.

Both Lewis and Turner took charges over the next two minutes so when Martin drilled another 3 with 3:22 left in the half, Bryant had a 10-point margin.

It was 21-11 at the half.

Washington posted up for a bucket to start the second half and Bryant had its largest lead. Hancock answered with a drive up the baseline. Both teams had a couple of empty trips then Washington rejected a shot by Wharton.

In the scramble for the loose ball, there was a pile-up and frustrations boiled over briefly. Wharton and Hunt were hit with technical fouls. Hunt was also cited for a personal foul, giving him four for the game. He had to come to the bench but when Wharton stayed in and tossed in a 3-pointer, it sparked the Rockets’ rally.

“He’s intense. He’s a competitor,” asserted Abrahamson of his junior swingman. “And we have to reign that in a little bit. We don’t want to be disrespectful to the game. We don’t want to be looked at as punks or any other derogatory term. We want to represent our school and community in a first-class manor.

“But, at the same time, when I’m looking at players, if you’ve got to fire them up then you’ve got trouble,” he continued. “If you’ve got to tone them down, you’ve got a chance. So, it’s a work in progress but having to tone them down is something I’d rather do, with any of them.”
Catholic’s momentum built as Harville-Thomas scored 7 straight points including a three-point play with 1:19 left in the quarter to tie the game at 23. But Martin responded with a drive at the other end, scored and was fouled. He completed the three-point play and Harville-Thomas had to come to the bench with four fouls.

The 26-23 edge held until the end of the period. To start the fourth, Jack Mathis scored off a give-and-go to cut it to a point. In turn, Peters drove into the lane and dumped off a pass to Moody, who scored and was fouled with 6:02 left. He converted his free throw and it was 29-25.

Hancock converted twice at the line to cut it to 2 and the Hornets began to spread the floor. Hunt was fouled at 5:08 but couldn’t get his first shot to fall. Peters rebounded and attacked the basket. There was a collision with Hancock and it looked like Peters would be headed to the line to try to increase the margin. But the call went to Hancock. Peters was called for a charge.

That led to Hancock’s tying layup.

HORNETS 35, ROCKETS 30

Score by quarters

BRYANT          11       10       5          9 — 35

LR Catholic     6          5          12       9 — 30

HORNETS 35

Allen 0-1 0-0 0, Lewis 1-4 1-1 3, Hunt 2-3 2-3 7, Martin 3-10 2-3 10, Washington 1-3 0-0 2, Moody 1-1 1-1 3, Wilson 0-0 0-0 0, Peters 1-3 6-6 8, McIntosh 1-2 0-0 2, Turner 0-0 0-2 0, Moore 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 10-27 (37%) 12-16 (75%) 35.

ROCKETS 30

Stone 0-2 0-0 0, Wharton 1-9 2-2 5, Diaz 0-2 0-0 0, Harville-Thomas 5-7 3-7 13, Hancock 3-6 4-6 10, Hodapp 0-0 0-0 0, Straessle 0-1 0-0 0, Fox 0-2 0-0 0, Mathis 1-1 0-0 2, Pinter 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 10-30 (30%) 9-15 (60%) 30.

Three-point field goals: Bryant 3-9 (Martin 2-6, Hunt 1-1, Peters 0-2), LR Catholic 1-7 (Wharton 1-4, Fox 0-2, Hancock 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 9, LR Catholic 11. Rebounds: Bryant 12-16 28 (Hunt 0-5 5, Martin 1-1 2, Washington 0-2 2, Peters 2-0 2, Allen 0-1 1, Lewis 0-1 1, Moody 1-0 1, Wilson 0-1 1, McIntosh 0-1 1, Turner 1-0 1, Moore 0-1 1, team 0-1 1), LR Catholic 9-14 23 (Harville-Thomas 2-4 6, Wharton 0-4 4, Hancock 2-2 4, Diaz 2-1 3, Stone 1-1 2, Mathis 0-1 1, team 2-1 3). Team fouls: Bryant 21, LR Catholic 19. Fouled out: LR Catholic, Wharton. Technical fouls: Bryant, Hunt; LR Catholic, Wharton.

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