By Rob Patrick
RUSSELLVILLE — Everything that the Bryant Hornets experience this year is new to each of them. Sure, they’ve played lots of games — junior varsity, freshman, eighth grade — played in close ones, won some and lost some. But none of them, including[more] seniors Kyle Nossaman and Houston Garner, have done so at the varsity level against Class 7A and 6A teams.
Crunch time in a close varsity conference game in the 7A/6A-Central is unlike anything they’ve experienced.
Until Friday night at Russellville, that is.
Going into the final two minutes, the Hornets and the Cyclones were tied at 29, thanks to a three-point play by Bryant’s Brantley Cozart with 2:46 left and two missed free throws by Russellville’s Wes Heilman with 2:36 to go.
The Hornets spread the floor looking for a layup, free throws or to whittle the clock down for a final shot. But they suffered a turnover with 1:25 to play. Given the opportunity, the Cyclones did the same thing before, with :25.6 to go, Heilman was fouled again. To that point, he had missed three free throws and he commenced to miss a fourth but his fifth found the bottom of the net to give Russellville a 30-29 lead.
Looking at the chance to take the lead with a basket, the Hornets worked the ball up the floor and head coach Mike Abrahamson took a timeout with :14.5 to go to set up a play in hopes of getting that hoop.
When play resumed, Cozart got the ball on the wing as a back-screen was set for 6-7 junior Quinton Motto who broke off the screen across the lane to the low block. Cozart got him the ball but the Russellville defense collapsed. Bumped from two sides, Motto fought to keep possession but lost it out of bounds. No foul call was forthcoming until Russellvilles Chris Washington had claimed the ball with :12.4 showing.
Washington canned his first shot to make it 31-29 and Abrahamson called his last timeout. Strategy set, the teams returned to the court and Washington left the door open for the Hornets with a miss.
In the waning moments, Jordan Griffin got a decent look at a 3 from the right wing but it refused to go and the Cyclones’ Grey Harris was fouled with :01 on the clock. And when he converted both free throws, it put the game out of reach for the Hornets despite a layup by Cozart before the buzzer.
Russellville had survived 33-31.
“What I’m encouraged by is they continue to play hard, continue to have great attitudes,” Abrahamson said of his team which fell to 4-11 overall and 0-2 in league play going into Tuesday’s home tilt against Conway. “We had our chances tonight and just couldn’t execute. We were in the right place. The guys pay attention during the timeouts when I draw up something new. They come out and they’re in the right place at the right time but we just don’t execute. We had a travel and a couple of other turnovers down the stretch. I hope the next time we’re in this situation, we can be in the right place at the right time again and we’ll be a little more comfortable to come through and execute and finish it.
“It’s tough,” the coach acknowledged. “I thought we played well, probably better than at Catholic overall.”
The Hornets opened conference season a week earlier with a 47-31 loss at Catholic in a game that got away late.
Bryant opened the game at Russellville with as much enthusiasm as they’ve displayed all year. And it showed in their play. After Washington hit a 3 to open the game, the Hornets went on an 11-0 run that included 3-pointers by Cozart, Griffin and Marcus Wilson. Motto added a baseline jumper along the way.
Wilson’s triple capped the run. It came just moments after fellow sophomore Zach Cambron had absorbed a charge on a drive by Harris.
But after that 3 with 2:07 left in the first quarter, the Hornets suffered an all-too-familiar cold spell. They went that final 2:07 plus the entire second quarter and 3:37 into the third quarter — a total of 13:44 — before they could manage another field goal.
But their defense was enough that they still led 12-9 at the half and 12-11 when Motto ended the freeze off a feed from Griffin.
“There’s no secret, we’re offensively challenged,” Abrahamson acknowledged. “We’ve gone through those spurts all year. We’re trying to eliminate that. It’s just part of the process.”
Back-to-back 3’s by Kyle Jones and Washington followed, giving the Cyclones their first lead since 3-0. And they maintained a slight advantage the rest of the quarter. It was 20-16 before Griffin beat the buzzer with a drive to the rack.
So when Cambron scored on a high-low feed from Motto to start the fourth quarter, the Hornets were even again at 20.
After Jordan Barrett snapped the tie with a free throw, Bryant made a bid to take control of the game. Wilson fed Cambron for an open jumper down the baseline that gave the Hornets a 22-21 lead. Cozart followed with a steal and a layup to make it 24-21. He had a chance to make it a 4-point edge with a free throw but it rimmed out.
Harris’ 3 thus tied it at 24 with 5:41 to go. A layup by Motto behind the Russellville defense snapped the tie but a bucket by Mitch Hall knotted it again. The Hornets suffered a turnover but Jones misfired. Griffin couldn’t get a jumper to fall and Motto couldn’t hang onto the rebound.
With 3:41 to play, Washington scored to give the Cyclones the lead. He would add a free throw to make it 29-26 before Cozart’s three-point play tied it, setting up the frustrating finish for the Hornets.
“I told them I’m proud of them,” said Abrahamson of his post-game talk to his distressed team. “I told them I love them. And that’s true. They’re doing all they can. I really believe that. They’re really playing their tails off. They’re great kids. I believe we’re going to get over the hump at some point but I don’t know when. We’ll get back to work tomorrow morning.”
Part of the frustration was that the Hornets shot just six free throws in the game to 21 for the Cyclones. The fact that Russellville only converted eight of those 21 helped Bryant stay ahead early and to stay close late.
CYCLONES 33, HORNETS 31
Score by quarters
BRYANT 11 1 6 13 — 31
Russellville 4 5 11 13 — 33
HORNETS (4-11, 0-2) 31
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Griffin 2-8 0-2 0-1 1 3 5
Cozart 4-12 1-2 1-2 3 2 10
Nossaman 0-2 0-0 0-0 0 2 0
Garner 0-3 0-0 0-1 1 4 0
Motto 4-7 1-2 2-7 9 3 9
Wilson 1-2 0-0 2-3 5 3 3
Cambron 2-3 0-0 0-1 1 5 4
Moore 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 0
Neal 0-1 0-0 1-0 1 0 0
Trudell 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Team 0-1 1
Totals 13-38 2-6 6-16 22 23 31
CYCLONES (8-6, 1-1) 33
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Washingtpn 4-8 3-8 1-6 7 4 13
Harris 2-10 3-3 1-4 5 2 8
Jones 3-6 0-0 0-1 1 1 8
Heilman 0-1 1-5 1-1 2 1 1
Woerner 0-1 0-0 2-2 4 3 0
Hall 1-1 0-0 0-3 3 0 2
Barrett 0-1 1-4 0-1 1 2 1
George 0-0 0-1 1-3 4 1 0
Sacrey 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Team 1-0 1
Totals 10-28 8-21 7-21 28 14 33
Three-point field goals: Bryant 3-12 (Cozart 1-6, Griffin 1-4, Wilson 1-2, Garner 0-1), Russellville 5-15 (Washington 2-5, Jones 2-3, Harris 1-6, Heilman 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 9, Russellville 11.