Hornets win 2 at Classic
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
HOT SPRINGS —Short of winning a holiday tournament like the Summit Bank Spa City Classic, the best a team can do is win two of its three games. Now, some wins can do you more good than others as far as preparing you for more important games down the line but, as the old coach’s saying goes, a win is a win is a win.
And the Bryant Hornets, after three tough losses in their previous four games including the opener of the tourney against unbeaten Hot Springs, needed a win. They got that in the second round of the consolation bracket, easing to a 69-24 victory over the Caddo Hills Warriors on Friday, Dec. 28. Caddo Hills, a Class 2A power, came into the event with a gaudy 18-2 record but couldn’t hold up against the larger classification teams like the 7A Hornets.
But other than getting Bryant back on track, the win didn’t do much for them in regards to preparing for the rugged 7A-Central Conference play that was set to begin on Friday, Jan. 4, when the physical Little Rock Catholic Rockets visit.
However, in the consolation final on Saturday, the Hornets added a substantial victory, 68-54, over a Pulaski Oak Grove team that was a little more like those they’ll be facing down the line.
Bryant 68, Oak Grove 54
“It was better,” acknowledged Bryant assistant coach Chad Withers regarding the win over Oak Grove. “They were quick and aggressive and really athletic and pushed it on us. We had to execute some things. I think they’re going to be pretty good in their conference. It was a good win for us.”
The Hornets were sparked by guard Zach Lewis’ season-high 25 points. Hunter Sample added 12, Chad Knight 9.
“Zach did a good job,” Withers said. “His athleticism has never been a problem. The good thing about Zach is he plays at one speed. But sometimes that’s bad when the ball’s in his hands. Sometimes he needs to gear down a little bit. But he’s doing a good job for us.”
Lewis contributed 7 points and a key assist to a 15-0 run that gave the Hornets the upper hand in the game,, turning a 23-19 deficit into a 34-23 lead.
Sample started the run with a base line drive. After Oak Grove’s Jeramye Hobbs missed a 3-point try, Lewis posted up for a basket that tied the game.
The Hornets forced an Oak Grove turnover and Lewis fed Dijon Benton for a layup and the lead.
Both teams missed chances to change the 25-23 score before point guard Brandon Cowart came down with a rebound and fed Lewis who was fouled going to the rack. His free throws extended the margin to 4.
At the other end, Benton took a charge for the second time in the game and, moments later, Sample cashed in with a basket inside and a 29-23 advantage. And, after another Oak Grove turnover, Knight drove for a layup off a tap out by Sample off a missed shot and Bryant led 31-23 at the half.
When the second half started, Lewis drilled a 3 to complete the run. A basket inside by Brandon Hudson at the 6:16 mark ended a five-minute dry spell for Oak Grove.
Early in the game, the Hornets continued to struggle with shots from close range, something that’s plagued them often this season. It was as if there was a lid on the basket.
“I’m going to get a witch doctor,” Withers quipped. “We’re going to figure that out. I guess it’s just concentration and we’re going to have to work on that because it’s going to come back and bite us if those don’t start going in. They’ve got to.”
Oak Grove led 11-4 with the help of a pair of 3’s by Cedrick Williams who had five in the game for a team-high 15 points.
Sample fed Knight on a backdoor cut for a layup to get a rally started. Taylor Masters hit a 3 for Bryant and, after an Oak Grove hoop, Cowart added a free throw and Benton tied it with a three-point play hitting the offensive glass. A stickback by Tim Floyd put Bryant ahead and Benton added a free throw to make it 16-13 going into the second quarter.
But Oak Grove started the second period with a burst that produced their 4-point lead which the Hornets erased with their tell-tale run.
Oak Grove cut Bryant’s 11-point lead to 5 midway through the third quarter but a layup by Sample got the Hornets back on track. They led 43-36 going into the fourth.
Early in the final period, Floyd hit a free throw, Knight rebounded the missed second shot and scored then Sample contributed a three-point play and Lewis made a steal and layup to bump the margin to 14, 53-39, with 6:20 to go.
The lead was never less than 10 after that and the Hornets hit enough free throws in the closing two minutes to build as much as a 17-point bulge before a throw-in 3 at the buzzer by Hobbs set the final score.
Bryant 69, Caddo Hills 24
Despite its impressive-looking record, Caddo Hills lost all three games at the tournament. Bryant took its turn on Friday and rolled to a 16-0 lead that was interrupted by a basket then was extended to 21-2 by the end of the first period.
Fifteen players got into the game for the Hornets and 11 of them scored, led by Benton’s 13, all in the first half. Lewis and Masters added 10 each with Masters collecting 14 rebounds including 10 in the first half. Andrew Tilley scored 9 points and Floyd 8.
No one for Caddo Hills had more than 6 points.
“A win’s a win,” acknowledged Hornets head coach Mark Smith. “We’ll take any of them we can get. I’m proud of the guys for that.
“But you can kind of get some bad habits from that kind of game,” he added. “We executed pretty well — but, gosh, we fouled a whole lot. That’s the bad habits you can create. Our guys were getting excited, trying to run out a little bit too much. But some guys stepped up and hit some shots.”
Caddo tried mixing defenses to slow the Hornets down but to no avail. With a late burst by Benton that included a pair of 3’s, Bryant held a 36-13 lead at the half and extended it to 42-13 early in the third quarter with Sample picking up a pair of nice assists on layups by Knight and Cowart. He then blocked a shot that led to a layup for Lewis.
“They went to a triangle (and two defense) and I thought Dijon shot the ball well,” Smith said of the outburst. “Obviously, Tim comes in and gives us a boost.”
Bryant led 55-19 at one point and the mercy rule was put into effect in the fourth quarter as both teams emptied their benches. Caddo failed to score over the final seven minutes of the game and the final margin was the largest as Tilley, Dontay Renuard, Chris Rycraw and Cameron Whaley added to the scoring down the stretch.
“You really don’t enjoy playing the smaller classification schools — not from the standpoint of thinking that it’s an easy win but from the standpoint that it’s kind of a David versus Goliath kind of thing,” Smith commented. “Caddo Hills is a good team. It’s just size It’s different than I’m sure they’re used to.”