Hornets rebound to win twice at CAC tourney
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
MAUMELLE — Despite suffering their first loss of the season, a loss that spoiled their chances to win the Central Arkansas Christian Ortho Arkansas Classic, the Bryant Hornets didn’t sulk. In fact, they responded with a pair of quality wins that featured promising performances in the clutch.
Perhaps developing a valuable knack for winning the close ones, the Hornets edged the Pulaski Oak Grove Hornets 68-66 on Thursday then won the consolation round of the tournament with a 51-42 victory over Little Rock Mills on Saturday.
“Lets’ face it,” said Hornets head coach Leo Olberts, “most nights we’re going to have to play real well, keep it close then try to win it at the end in a lot of games.
“Obviously, anytime you’re in a tournament you want to win it,” he continued. “We knew there were a lot of good teams in here and only one team was going to leave 3-0, so the next best thing is 2-1. We played good teams every night here and the game we lost, we certainly felt like we could’ve won against a real good Lake Hamilton team.”
Beyond the wins and losses, Olberts wanted to use the tourney to develop some depth on the team.
“The first couple of games (of the season), we kind of went with six guys,” he noted. “I think this week, every game, we played quite a few people off the bench. We need that depth not only for conference but just (this week) in our tournament, we play three nights in a row, you can’t do it with five or six guys. You’ve got to have some depth. And I was real pleased with the guys that came in off the bench for us.”
The Hornets, now 4-1, open the Bryant Invitational tonight at 7:30 against Central Arkansas Christian.
After trailing from the start against Mills, the Hornets overcame a seven-point deficit in the second quarter to grab a 26-24 halftime edge. They continued their rush by scoring the first 6 points of the third quarter to secure the upper hand in the game and never relinquished the lead.
Free-throw shooting played a big role for Bryant as the Hornets attacked the Comets’ defense. The result was a 22-for-28 performance at the line including 7-of-10 in the fourth quarter (with two of the misses coming in the final :10 when the outcome was already secure).
“(Mills) is good,” Olberts stated, “real athletic. They were 4-1 coming into tonight and they’d beaten some good ball teams, so it was a really good win for us.”
Again, the bench players drew the coach’s praise. “Josh Ridge, Ben Olberts, Josh Elrod — a lot of guys came off the bench and contributed when we really needed them to,” he said.
Mills led 6-2 early on and, after the Hornets cut it to 8-6 late in the first quarter, the Comets managed a 12-8 advantage at the quarter change.
A 6-3 surge to start the second quarter increased the lead to 18-11, the Comets’ largest of the game.
With Mills leading 20-13, Bryant began its run to the front at the free-throw line — the Hornets were in the bonus by late in the first quarter. Successful trips to the line by Tad Beene, Nathan James, Jared Thomas and Matt Thornton drew Bryant even at 20.
The Hornets forced a Mills turnover and Ridge, a sophomore, scored inside to give his team its first lead with 1:55 left in the half.
Mills’ Jerry Williams (the only Comet that scored in double figures with 11) answered with a baseline drive to knot it at 22 but, at the other end, Ridge followed his own miss to put the Hornets on top for good.
A Comet turnover resulted in a layup for Beene to make it 26-22 before Mills’ Nathan Bemis cut the margin to 2 at the half.
Thomas led Bryant with 15 points in the game. Beene added 12 and Thornton 10. Seven of Thornton’s points came in the fourth quarter when he converted five clutch free throws in a row to help secure the victory. He also led the teams with eight rebounds.
The Hornets’ second half surge began with a 10-foot bank shot by sophomore Jeremy Reeves. After a Mills turnover, Thomas took a trip to the line and converted twice and, moments later, Beene canned a 15-footer to make it 32-24.
A bucket by Williams and a 3-pointer by Ehren Hartz pulled Mills back to within 3 but Beene flushed Bryant’s lone 3 of the game in response.
The two teams scrambled for almost three minutes with a free throw by Thomas all that was scored until James got free inside for a basket with :42 left.
Mills finally broke the ice when Bradley Griffin beat the buzzer with a follow shot that made it 38-31, Bryant, going into the final period.
“The second half, we changed our offense up a little bit,” Olberts said. “We wanted to try to post up Jared a lot more. We thought if we could get it to Jared, if he didn’t have a shot, he could kick it to the opposite block. And it worked for us the couple of times we did it so (Mills) had to change some things.
“I thought overall, the guys did a really great job the second half especially after we built about a 10-point lead in the third quarter,” Olberts added. “We kind of threw it away, just being careless but then when it got real close, we came back and took care of business at the end. Great job at the free-throw line.”
Mills immediately closed the gap to 2 forcing a Bryant timeout just two minutes into the fourth quarter, but the Comets couldn’t overtake the Hornets.
Mills’ Quincy Watson missed a shot at tying the game and a driving layup by Thomas re-established the Hornets. Thornton added a 15-foot jumper with 3:25 to play to make it a 6-point game only to have Mills roar back to within a point, 42-41, at the two-minute mark.
A follow shot by Thomas kept the Hornets ahead and, after Williams hit a free throw, Bryant spread the floor.
Mills forced a turnover with 1:00 left but James forced a held ball on the inbounds play to get it back for the Hornets. The Comets had to commit three fouls to get Bryant into the bonus but, when they finally did, it came on an inbounds play before the ball was thrown in. The resulting dead-ball foul allowed Thornton to shoot a pair of free throws and the Hornets to retain possession of the ball. Thornton was fouled again and converted once to make it 47-42.
Mills wound up going the last 1:32 without a point and the last 2:24 without a field goal.
Free throws by Thomas and Thornton in the final :40 created the final margin of victory.
Against Oak Grove, that duo combined to score 14 of the Hornets’ 18 fourth-quarter points but it was Nathan James who hit a basket with just seconds left, snapping a 66-66 tie and giving the Hornets the win.
James’ basket came just moments after Mills’ Lance Boykins hit his seventh 3-pointer of the game to tie what had been a close game since the outset.
Bryant led 18-17 after a quarter and the game was tied at 32 at the half. Going into the fourth quarter, Oak Grove had edged ahead 51-50 on the strength of a buzzer-beating 3 from 35 feet by Steven James.
Thomas led Bryant with 23 points. Thornton finished with 19 and Beene 16.
Boykins finished with 24 to lead Oak Grove.