Hornets’ late surge sends Badgers packing
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
Bryant Hornets head coach Leo Olberts had designs on getting through Friday’s pre-Christmas break finale against the Arkadelphia Badgers without using senior swingman Matt Thornton. A nagging leg injury had slowed Thornton over the last couple of weeks and it figured that a night off would be the final ingredient in his recovery.
But, though they’d been close the entire ballgame, the Hornets were unable to get ahead of the Badgers until midway through the fourth quarter. A three-point play by Jared Thomas at the 3:48 mark gave them a 38-37 lead. Both teams missed chances to change that score before Bryant senior Tad Beene hit a pair of free throws with 1:16 left.
Arkadelphia’s Chan Marshall countered with two from the line at the 1:07 mark. With :53 left, Beene hit two more, making it a 3-point game again, only to have Marshall trump that with a 3-point jumper 11 seconds later, tying the game.
But the Hornets didn’t panic or letdown at that point. They quickly inbounded the ball and Thornton, who had entered the game late in the third quarter, beat the Badgers back for a layup as Bryant quickly regained the edge. Moments later, senior post man Nathan James made a steal and, with :07 left, Thornton sealed the victory with a pair of free throws.
A last-second 3 by Marshall made the final score 46-45.
“Matt hurt his leg against Lake Hamilton (Dec. 11),” recalled coach Olberts. “We didn’t plan on using him unless we really had to tonight but I’m sure glad we stuck him in there because he really did a good job late. When we were up three and they hit the three, we could’ve folded but, I think, within five seconds we were on the other end with Matt. That was a big play in the game, just coming right back and scoring.”
It was a quality win for the Hornets, particularly in the wake of Tuesday’s disappointing conference-opening loss to Little Rock McClellan.
“They’ve got a darned good team,” Olberts noted. “They shoot the ball extremely well. They’ve got four starters back (from a State Tournament team) and we knew it was going to be a battle. Summerville is a load and they’ve got a really good, quick bunch of athletes. They’re going to win a lot of ballgames.”
Defense was the key, Olberts said. But, interestingly, it wasn’t the Hornets’ patented match-up zone that frustrated the Badgers (who hit just 14-of-34 from the field), it was man-to-man.
“I thought the guys just did a tremendous job man-to-man,” he said. “We may start playing it a lot more, I tell you what. Our guys played pretty good man against Lake Hamilton when we got down over in that (Central Arkansas Christian) tournament. I think we’re fairly quick. We’re certainly going to need it once we get into conference.
“This was one of those wins where we kind of won it on heart,” Olberts related. “It was one of those games where, offensively, we seemed to struggle most of the night, at the line and everywhere else. But, late in the game, we made some really good plays, got the ball inside and Tad Beene and Matt Thornton made some big free throws at crunch time when we just had to have them.”
Actually, if the Hornets had hit their free throws in the first three quarters like they did in the fourth, it may not have been as urgent. They were 7-of-16 going into the final period then hit 7-of-8 in the final four minutes.
Arkadelphia grabbed the early advantage behind Summerville who scored 8 of his 10 points in the first quarter before getting into foul trouble. The Badgers built a 16-5 lead before a basket by James and, in the final minute, a free throw by James cut it to 16-8. Summerville had picked up his second foul sending James to the line then, when Arkadelphia was trying to set up the last shot, he picked up his third setting an illegal pick.
In fact, Arkadelphia piled up the fouls as a team in the first half. The Hornets were in the bonus as the second quarter began and, with Summerville out of the game, it figured they’d make some hay going into intermission. But a 4-for-10 performance at the line in the period didn’t help and the Badgers still led 21-14 with 1:30 left.
Beene, who despite a sub-par 2-for-15 shooting night still scored 11 points, drilled a 3-pointer to cut into that margin. At the other end, Arkadelphia point guard Mario Owens picked up his third foul as Bryant sophomore Jeremy Reeves absorbed a charge.
And before Arkadelphia head coach Randy Hicks could get Owens out of the game, he committed his fourth, trying to stop Thomas from scoring off an offensive rebound with :32 left.
Thomas hit both free throws and Bryant was within 21-19 at the break.
Though Arkadelphia out-rebounded the Hornets 31-29, Bryant did a great job of preventing second shots by the Badgers. While 11 of Bryant’s boards came at the offensive end, Arkadelphia only managed four at the offensive end.
It was a basket off an offensive rebound by Ben Olberts that tied the game at 21 as the third quarter began. But Arkadelphia responded with a 12-3 run to build a 33-24 lead.
Bryant’s rally began with a basket by Thomas inside with 1:45 left in the third quarter. James added a stickback then exchanged free throws with the Badgers’ Chris Marshall to make it 34-29 Arkadelphia, going into the fourth quarter.
Chan Marshall made the first basket of the period but a baseline drive by Thomas was followed up by a similar move from Thornton to make it a 4-point game. Thomas picked up his fourth foul but Arkadelphia’s O.J. Macon was unable to hit a free throw and when James scored off a drive, the margin was 2.
Both teams missed chances to change that score but it wasn’t until Thomas came through with a three-point play with 3:48 left that it changed. Bryant’s 38-37 lead was its first since 5-3 in the early going.
On three trips with a chance to regain the advantage, the Badgers missed a shot and committed two turnovers. With 1:16 to go, Beene converted both ends of a one-and-one. Chan Marshall and Beene traded free throws after that setting up the climactic final :45.
“After getting (the season) off to such a good start then having that poor shooting night over at McClellan, we certainly wanted to end the first part of the season with a win,” coach Olberts stated.
The Hornets took their Christmas break with a shiny 8-2 record. They were set to return to action Tuesday, Dec. 28, at 12:30 p.m. against Magnolia in a jamboree type of get-together at Fouke. A return game against Arkadelphia is set for the night of Thursday, Dec. 30.