Hornets outlast Badgers on heart
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
ARKADELPHIA — Usually when you think of a basketball team that plays tough man-to-man defense, you think of flashing hands and quick feet, over-playing the passing lanes and producing offense from aggressive defense.
But those aren’t the only ingredients that make for an effective man defense. Hustle, hard work, determination and teamwork can do it too.
And those are the attributes that best define the Bryant Hornets.
Neither blessed with great quickness nor an abundance of size, the Hornets figured to be a classic zone team this season. And that seemed to fit right into the grand designs of head coach Leo Olberts and assistant Scott Curtis, who like the zone — particularly, a match-up of one configuration or another — for a variety of reasons.
But the Hornets have often played flat when deployed in a zone this season. Not only have they been a bit inactive on defense, but it has carried over to their offense.
So, they’ve spent much of the season starting in a zone, falling behind then switching to man in the second half and coming back — sometimes all the way, sometimes not — but always playing better after the change.
What seemed like a foolhardy thing to do — put this team in a man-to-man defense against teams that are, invariably night after night, quicker, bigger and more athletic. But just as invariably, the Hornets out-played those quicker, bigger, more athletic opponents when they employed the man-to-man.
Olberts has threatened to start a game in ‘man,’ but has yet to bring himself to do it. The time may have come.
And the proof may have come in the Hornets’ determined, come-from-behind 70-62 victory in overtime at Arkadelphia Friday night.
Coming off a pair of losses against good teams that were close enough to make the Hornets believe they should’ve been wins, the trip to Arkadelphia was no small thing. A third straight loss heading into the Christmas break with only the Mills Classic in Little Rock standing between them and the bulk of the AAAAA-South Conference schedule, the Hornets needed something good to happen. The young team’s confidence was on the line.
And when they fell behind 21-7 by the end of the first quarter against a fired-up Badgers team, things did not look good.
“It seems like the same old, same old for us,” commented Olberts, afterwards. “No matter what we do, we seem to come out and get off to a poor start. We dug ourselves a hole and then, at the half, we’re down by three and, if we’d made some free throws we might’ve been ahead.” “
“The first period we were just dead,” stated junior Jared Thomas who, along with Joe Whittington and Josh Carroll, led the Hornets with 15 points. “The second period, we stepped it up and the third was just neck-and-neck. In the fourth, I thought we were going to blow it out there for awhile but we had a couple of turnovers and they came back on us.”
“These guys are just awfully tough. They just don’t give up,” he noted. “They keep pluggin’ and keep pluggin’. We probably have more guts and heart than quickness and size. We work a lot on our ‘man’ and the fundamentals of it every day and we’re starting to see a little bit of progress in practice that’s carrying over into the games.”
After hitting just one of their first seven free throws, the Hornets finally got into gear in the second quarter, sparked by Whittington and Carroll. Whittington ended the 11-0 run that produced Arkadelphia’s first-quarter bulge, with a jumper in the lane to start the second period.
The Hornets then got their running game going and Carroll finished a pair of breaks with layups, forcing an Arkadelphia timeout with the lead whittled to 21-13.
On consecutive trips after that, Bryant players blocked Arkadelphia shots. Ryan Schmidt rejected an offering by the Badgers’ Corey Harris, but the Hornets turned the ball back over. Whittington then slapped away O.J. Macon’s attempt. Again, however, the Hornets were unable to take advantage. After a Bryant miss, Macon scored on a spin move inside but Bryant’s Nathan James drove for a layup to answer. Shortly thereafter, Matt Thornton came up with a steal for the Hornets and was fouled. He converted both free throws and the margin was 6.
But Arkadelphia maintained. The Badgers still led 29-22 with :37 left in the half. James then hit a short jumper and, at the other end, stood in for a charge against the Badgers’ Chan Marshall, who scored nine of his team-high 16 points in the first half, but drew his third foul on the play. In turn, Whittington was fouled with :04 showing. His free throws got the Hornets as close as they’d been since early in the first quarter, 29-26.
And when Carroll nailed a jumper in the lane to start the second half, the lead was just 1.
But the Hornets couldn’t pull even until, with 1:41 left, Thornton flushed a trey after James had made a steal. The score was knotted at 38.
Macon hit a free throw with :48 to go then neither team scored until Carroll beat the buzzer with a 15-footer to give the Hornets their first lead, 40-39, since 2-0.
And the roll continued as the fourth quarter evolved. Whittington fed Thomas for a jump hook that increased the lead. After an Arkadelphia miss, the Hornets burned the Badgers’ press as Carroll fed James for a layup.
An Arkadelphia turnover and the Hornets were on the run again with Whittington finishing with a nice, 10-foot bank shot to make it 46-39.
After a timeout, Arkadelphia regained its bearings and rallied to within three forcing a Bryant timeout. Thomas then stepped up with a short jumper and, following a basket by Arkadelphia’s Kevin Dilworth, a baseline drive that resulted in a three-point play and a 6-point margin again.
It was53-47 when things started going south for the Hornets. Six consecutive trips up the floor, Bryant turned the ball over. More than once, the Hornets’ bench protested at the rugged way the Badgers were forcing those turnovers, but to no avail.
With 1:21 left, Harris tied the game with a layup. With :32 to go, Steve Wilson’s running jumper put the Badgers on top. Marshall added a free throw to make it 56-53 with :13 left, but he missed his second shot leaving the door open for the Hornets.
Bryant finally attempted its first shot since the 3:34 mark when Whittington faked a defender off his feet beyond the 3-point arc on the left wing, drove around him and launched a jumper with :06 left.
Though the Badgers disputed it, the shot was ruled a 3-pointer and when it swished, the game was headed to overtime with the teams tied at 56.
The game was still tied at 60 with 1:32 left in the extra period. James snapped the deadlock with a free throw. His second shot missed but Thomas rebounded and scored to make it 63-60.
James then came up with another steal. The Hornets spread the floor and the Badgers started looking for someone to foul. They chose Tad Beene, who hadn’t played much during the game because Thornton, Carroll and Whittington had been so effective, and he hadn’t scored.
He hit his first free throw but missed his second only to have Thomas come away with the carom.
At that point, the junior forward lost a contact lense. An official timeout was called as he tried to get it back into his eye and it became an extended exercise in frustration. Finally, with the Arkadelphia bench calling for a substitute and a resumption of play, Thomas decided to play without the lens.
Play resumed and Beene was fouled again with :48.7 left. This time, he converted twice to a 66-60 lead.
Marshall misfired then fouled out sending Beene back to the stripe. Again, Beene converted twice, giving Bryant its largest lead of the game.
Wilson finally scored for Arkadelphia with :27 left but that was all for the Badgers. In the final :25, Beene and Thomas added free throws to set the final margin.
“Joe hit that incredible 3 to tie up the game and I knew from then we were going to get out with a win,” Thomas stated. “It was a real important win. We lost the last two and we needed this one to pick our spirits back up going into the Mills Classic. Hopefully, we’ll do good there and carry it out through conference.”
The Hornets’ Mills Classic opener will be Wednesday, Dec. 30, against Dumas.