Comeback by Hornets freshmen overcome by Junior Rockets

By Rob Patrick

LITTLE ROCK — The acoustics at the McCauley Center on the campus of Mount St. Mary’s Academy are such that, when the crowd is making a lot of noise — say, like it is near the end of a very close, hotly-contested basketball game — individual voices get drowned out.

Now, most coaches who have brought a team in there discover that very quickly and work out some kind of hand signal or alternate noise they can use to communicate with their players or the officials.

But Monday night was a rare instance in which a boys game was being played at the gym. The Bryant and Little Rock Catholic freshman teams were following up the game between the Lady Hornets and the Academy’s freshman Mounties instead of playing at Catholic High as usual. It’s an arrangement, apparently, that Catholic and Mount have a time or two a year. (Two or three years ago, both games were held at Catholic’s gym.)[more]

So, it was the first time that Bryant freshman boys head coach Steve Wilson had ever been in the McCauley Center.

In the final minute of the game, the Hornets trailed the Junior Rockets 32-31 after a furious comeback. Catholic had possession of the basketball and was working the clock. Wilson needed his team to foul because they had them to give before getting the Rockets to the free-throw line.

It was one of those junior high games, you could call a “screamer.” Cheerleaders and pep squad members were literally screaming, members of the crowd were yelling and it all just kind of melded into a din with little distinguishing one sound from another. So Wilson’s exhortations were just part of the mix.

His players could not hear him.

With the Hornets scrambling to try to make a steal, the Rockets’ Evan James got free on the baseline and drove for a basket to give his team a 34-31 lead with :12 left.

Wilson was able to get a timeout with :10.6 to go to try to set up a 3-point try for a tie. But when play resumed, a turnover undermined the strategy and a layup at the buzzer by the Rockets gave them a 36-31 win.

It’s Bryant’s first loss in three games in the South Division of the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference. The Hornets, 6-2 overall, will try to bounce back at home against Lake Hamilton on Thursday.

The clinching basket by James was his first since early in the second half which was significant to Bryant’s comeback. Along with twin brother Devan James, the duo combined for 25 of Catholic’s 36 points. But 19 of those came in the first half when the Rockets built a 17-3 lead early that was whittled to 24-14 by halftime.

Bryant was led by Aaron Bell’s 16 points. Though six other Hornets scored, none had more than 4.

A drive to the rack by Marcus Wilson had the Hornets within 4-3 when Catholic began its spree, highlighted by Devan James’ 11 first-quarter points.

Wilson got a timeout with about five minutes left in the first half and his team down 14 and they began their comeback. Scott Workman followed his own miss to get the Hornets back on track. Two free throws by Evan James countered that but then Bell drove the lane and was fouled. His two free throws were followed up by a rejection at the other end by Workman on a shot by Catholic’s Cole Boardman. Though the Hornets didn’t take immediate advantage, Bell followed up a miss with a steal and layup that cut the margin to 10.

Bryant trimmed another point off the lead after another blocked shot by Workman but eventually it was a 10-point game at the half.

The Hornets started the second half with a flurry to make it a game. Bell hit a free throw and Leon Neale crashed the offensive boards for a bucket to make it 24-17. Evan James hit a reverse layup but Neale countered with a driving jumper and, after a free throw by Catholic point guard Carson Case, Zach Cambron followed his own miss with a bucket to make it a 6-point game.

It was a mad scramble after that until Cambron hit a short jumper with :41 left in the third quareter to make it 27-23. The Hornets forced a turnover and Bell cashed in with a three-point play that had them all the way back to within 1, 27-26.

But Devan James, with his only basket of the second half, hit a layup that gave the Rockets a 3-point edge going into the final quarter.

Workman made a steal to start the final period but the Hornets were unable to take advantage immediately. Eventually, however, Bell got open for a 3 with 5:10 to go and nailed it to knot the game at 29.

But the Hornets could never gain the lead. They had several chances from that point on. The first opportunity was the most gut-wrenching. After Devan James was unable to get a shot to go, Bryant’s Luke Rayburn gathered the long rebound and headed the other way. The Hornets got to Cambron on the left side of the lane. He made two dribbles and launched a short jumper that nestled into the net for an apparent go-ahead bucket. But the shot was waved off as the official called a travelling violation.

Evan James misfired but, in turn, Neale couldn’t get a shot to fall after a drive to the bucket.

Finally, with 3:27 left, Case got open in the right corner and buried a 3 to give the Rockets a 32-29 edge.

The Hornets came back with a bucket to pull within 1 again. Cambron got the ball in the lane, was double-teamed and flipped a nice feed to Riley Hall coming up the baseline for a reverse layup to make it 32-31 with 2:19 to play.

In turn, the Rockets missed on a pair of shots and took a timeout to set up a play that got Hall an open look at a 3. Though it looked good when it left his hand, it just caught too much iron. In a scramble for the rebound, Bell came up with the loose ball and fired a shot in traffic that wouldn’t go.

The carom went out of bounds to Catholic and the Rockets called a timeout with 1:27 to go.

When play resumed, the Hornets eventually forced a turnover but Bell’s running jumper came off the iron and Catholic rebounded, resuming their spread offense to eat clock. To that point, Bryant had only committed four fouls and needed to foul immediately to get the Rockets in the bonus (seven fouls). Instead, Catholic ate up most of the last minute of the game before Evan James’ basket with :12 left.

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