By Rob Patrick
Photos by Kevin Nagle
CABOT — Every edifice, no matter how great and impressive it may become, begins with[more] a cornerstone. Names and dates and all the pertinent information is often carved into that stone for posterity, for those in years and years to come to know when construction commenced and who was responsible.
Now, when Mike Abrahamson turns the Bryant Hornets basketball program into just such an edifice, that cornerstone will be marked 2011-12 with the names of Brantley Cozart, Jordan Griffin, Quinton Motto, Travis Royal and Logan Trudell etched in.
The rest of the Hornets had plenty to contribute, of course, but there’s legacy in the program is not complete just yet. That senior quintet, however, endured some rough days as underclassmen but persevered.
On Saturday, their careers in the Hornets’ program concluded. And when it ended, Bryant was one of just four out of the 16 teams in Class 7A that was still playing. A game away from playing for a State title, the Hornets ran into the juggernaut that is the Little Rock Hall Warriors — the standard-bearer in Arkansas high school basketball in recent years. In a game that got lopsided late, the Warriors pinned a 73-43 loss on Bryant to gain a chance for a third consecutive State crown.
The Hornets, who finished 18-11 on the season, hadn't been on the short end of a score like that all season.
As is usually the case in such circumstances, Abrahamson spent a long time in the locker room with his players after the game.
“I told them this, which kind of sums it up,” he recounted. “‘As long as I’m the coach at Bryant, I will never let a kid play in this program that doesn’t know about these guys.’ That’s how special they are.
“This senior class is special to me personally,” the coach added. “I mean I love them as people. I care about them. I’d do anything for them and I think they feel the same in return.
“They have given me everything they’ve had from day one and they’re the ones that struggled through a rough season last year, giving all they had,” he added. “They continued to give it all they had even though the losses were piling up. Then they set the tone in the off-season.
“You know, when you’re going into an unknown territory, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Abrahamson continued. “’Maybe we’re going to do all this work and it’s not going to pay off, maybe we’re not going to win more games.’ But they bought in and they sacrificed and they showed up in the summer, lifted hard and worked on improving as individuals. Everybody became a better shooter. Everybody became a better ball-handler, passer — just understood the game better. And everybody committed. I’m sure there were many times when they said, ‘I hope this works. I hope we’re not doing this for nothing.’
“I’m just glad they got rewarded with some good games, a nice run here in the State tournament,” he said. “And, to do things that haven’t been done either ever or in a long time, it created a buzz around our school for boys basketball, which was nice. And we want to keep that going. We’re going to work like crazy to make sure it isn’t a one-hit wonder.”
Hall’s orange-shoed 6-9 junior Bobby Portis, who has already committed to play at the University of Arkansas, led his team with 19 points but he was hardly a one-man army. The Warriors went 10 deep with very little drop off. Quan Jones added 13, Daunde Barete 10 and Javon Perry 9.
“They’ve got it all,” Abrahamson said. “Going into the game, we knew it was going to be tough. We were hoping to have that perfect storm where we were making shots and they were getting frustrated but it just didn’t work. They’re very, very good and they deserve it. They’re tough. I don’t know how you beat them.”
The Warriors take a 26-3 record into the State final. The losses were to a team from Los Angeles, Calif., Baton Rouge, La., and North Little Rock. That last one must’ve been a wake-up call because they’ve now won 21 games in a row since.
For a while, the Hornets played toe-to-toe with them. Motto hit a jumper in the lane over Portis to start the scoring. Perry answered with a 3 for Hall but a driving reverse layup by Cozart had Bryant up 4-3.
A triple from Jones kept the seesaw going then Anthony Black drove for a bucket and, after a Hall turnover, canned a 15-footer that had the Hornets up 8-6.
But a stickback by Jobe Dillard not only tied the game but started a 13-0 run that put the Warriors ahead for good. A trapping half-court defense put the Hornets in scramble mode and by the time they got leveled out, they trailed 19-8. Portis got his first basket along the way, nailing a 3 but it was Jones, a high-flying 6-2 guard, who did most of the damage with 6 points.
It was 17-8 going into the second quarter then Anfernee Floyd scored inside to start the second and complete the run which was interrupted by Griffin. His 3 gave the Hornets a lift. On his way to a game-high 21 points, Griffin drove for a bucket then nailed another 3. A free throw by Black, who would go on the score 18 points, had Bryant within 23-17 with 3:53 left in the half.
The Hornets, however, could only manage a free throw by Griffin the rest of the period. A basket off a drive up the baseline by Perry pushed the lead back to 11 then, in the final seconds, he tossed in a pair of free throws to make it 31-18 at intermission.
Portis, who was held to just 5 points — 1 of 5 from the field and a couple of free throws — in the first half, came to work in the third quarter and quickly scored 4 points to extend the margin to 17. Black drained a 3 and, after a driving layup by Barete, Griffin flushed a triple and the Hornets were within 37-24.
The Hornets forced a turnover and had a chance to get closer but, out of the trap, Portis made a steal and drove to the other end for a slam dunk.
Though Bryant continued to battle, the game was never that close again as the Warriors gradually pulled away.
It was 47-28 with 2:27 left in the third quarter. Free throws by Griffin and Black cut the lead to 17 and, after Motto took a charge on a drive by Jones, he fed Black on a cut to the basket off a back-screen for a layup, the margin was 47-32.Motto followed up with a steal to give the Hornets a chance to put up the last points of the quarter. Sophomore Greyson Giles made a nice drive up the baseline for the Hornets and was fouled with :02.9 showing. But his free throws refused to drop.
Hall’s 10-3 run to start the fourth quarter extended the margin to 22 and, along the way, Motto fouled out.
The lead was never less than 20 the rest of the game. It was 66-43 when both coaches emptied their benches with 1:19 left in the game.
“I don’t know what we could’ve done differently, except make shots but we weren’t even doing that,” Abrahamson said.
“You can’t take away everything on any opponent,” he added. “So we were going to try to make them make jump shots. But they were lights out. They were making them. Then when they didn’t, they got the offensive rebound.
“They’re bigger than us. They’re athletic. They’re strong. My guys were giving it everything they’ve got and we were just over-matched. You take your hat off to them. It’s not just talent. They’ve got a good plan. They know what they’re doing out there. They’re well coached. They’re a tough team.”
Even going 15 deep, the Warriors shot 60 percent from the field (28 of 47) in the game. The Hornets, coming off a win over Rogers in which they hit at a 60-percent clip, were held to 32 percent (14 off 44) on Saturday.
“I’m proud they kept fighting,” Abrahamson said of his team. “They were never intimidated. They don’t back down from anyone. It’s a good thing for me to see going forward, to use as an example in the future in this program.”
WARRIORS 73, HORNETS 43
Score by quarters
BRYANT 8 10 14 11 — 43
LR Hall 17 14 16 26 — 73
HORNETS (18-11) 43
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Black 7-12 2-4 0-1 1 2 18
Griffin 5-14 7-10 1-4 5 4 21
Cozart 1-7 0-0 0-2 2 1 2
Wilson 0-3 0-0 0-1 1 0 0
Motto 1-3 0-0 2-2 4 5 2
Giles 0-3 0-2 1-1 2 1 0
Cambron 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 2 0
Royal 0-0 0-0 1-1 2 0 0
Trudell 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Davis 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Rayburn 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Hewett 0-0 0-2 1-0 1 0 0
Scoggins 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Reed 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Team 0-0 0
Total 14-44 9-18 6-12 18 15 43
WARRIORS (26-3) 73
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Perry 3-6 2-2 1-2 3 1 9
Jones 4-6 4-5 1-2 3 1 13
Portis 6-14 6-6 1-3 4 0 19
Barete 5-7 0-0 2-6 8 4 10
Dillard 4-5 0-1 1-1 2 3 8
Walton 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 2 0
C.Gulley 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Owens 1-2 1-2 2-3 5 2 3
Floyd 1-1 0-0 0-4 4 2 2
Dedner 0-0 0-0 0-1 1 0 0
Jackson 1-2 0-0 0-0 0 2 2
London 1-1 0-0 0-2 2 0 2
Bealer 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Stewart 1-1 0-0 0-0 0 1 3
K.Gulley 1-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 2
Team 2-3 5
Total 28-47 13-16 10-27 37 18 73
Three-point field goals: Bryant 6-22 (Griffin 4-7, Black 2-5, Cozart 0-4, Wilson 0-3, Giles 0-1, Davis 0-1, Rayburn 0-1), Little Rock Hall 4-8 (Jones 1-2, Portis 1-2, Perry 1-2, Stewart 1-1, Dillard 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 16, Little Rock Hall 15.