LR Mills falls in double OT
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 — In a gut-check performance less than 24 hours after a rugged win over Central Arkansas Christian, the Bryant Hornets went double overtime to outlast the Little Rock Mills Comets 69-62 to wrap up the CAC Invitational Tournament Saturday.
Junior guard Tad Beene scored the first 4 points of the second extra period on his way to a career-high 19 points and junior center Nathan James hit all seven of his shots from the field in scoring a game-high 21 to lead the way as Bryant recorded its first back-to-back victories of the young season.
The Hornets improved to 3-2 overall going into play in their own Bryant Classic on Tuesday. They were set to take on Dumas in the first round.
It was the first time head coach Leo Olberts had led a Hornets team against Mills, the program where he was head coach prior to taking over at Bryant, and his successor Lou Gergely, who was his assistant there.
“Lou’s one of my best friends in the world,” Olberts related. “We talk on the phone every week. We do a lot of the same things as far as strategy and the way we do things. And I thought they did a tremendous job. They took a lot of things away from us that we wanted to do. At times, we took a few things away from them I think they wanted to do. But I thought the hustle and the enthusiasm most of the ballgame showed everybody that both teams wanted to really win bad.”
The game was tight throughout. The two teams traded the lead repeatedly in the fourth quarter and, with 1:38 left, Mills was up 46-44 with a chance to increase the margin to 4. But a pair of missed free throws left the door open for Bryant.
Junior guard Matt Thornton, after being disappointed by his own performance against CAC the night before and losing his starting spot to sophomore Matt Brown, showed what he was made of by giving the Hornets some clutch play off the bench. With 1:21 left, he nailed a 3 — his first points of the game — to give his team the lead, 47-46.
And, following a miss by Mills’ Laurence Jefferson, Thornton grabbed the rebound. The Hornets spread the floor to use clock and with :16 left, Thornton was fouled. He converted once to make it a 2-point edge.
His second shot caromed out to James who wisely brought the ball back outside. Thornton was fouled again with :11.7 showing. Again, he converted once to give the Hornets a 49-46 edge.
But, while trying to match up man-to-man in the final seconds, the Hornets got tangled up and were unable to get outside in time to find Jefferson who drilled a tying 3 with :05 left.
Mills gained the early edge in the first overtime, scoring 5 quick points and had chances for more. But Jefferson, after one three-point play, couldn’t convert a free throw to complete another and, on the rebound, Mills’ Jermaine Thomas turned the ball over.
This time, senior Joe Whittington stepped up for the Hornets with a 3 to cut the lead to 54-52 with 3:18 left. It stayed that way as both teams missed opportunities until, with 1:36 to go, Whittington canned a baseline jumper to tie it.
Neither team could snap the tie after that and a second extra period was on.
This time, the Hornets took the early initiative as Beene drained a 3 then made a steal and was fouled. He converted once at the line and Bryant was ahead 58-54, its largest lead since early in the second quarter.
Thomas scored inside but then James answered for Bryant off a sparkling feed from Brown.
The Hornets forced a Comet turnover and James earned a trip to the free throw line where he gave his team its largest lead of the game to that point, 62-56.
Terrill Tillman’s driving hoop kept Mills close, but Brown threaded a pass inside to Jared Thomas for an answering hoop. Nathan Bemis scored for Mills only to have Whittington can a pair of free throws to make it 66-60 with :43 left.
Britton Davidson converted a pair at the line for Mills with :37 to go and that was the last of the Comets’ scoring. The Hornets finished up with two more free throws from Beene and one from James to set the final margin.
“We should’ve won in regulation and we go overtime,” Olberts noted. “And before you turn around, we’re down five. It would’ve been so easy for this team to fold up shop and go home, especially after playing (the night before). Mills had a day off, we didn’t. I thought these guys really sucked it up.”
“That’s what I like about our team so much,” James said, “Most teams would get down in that situation, but I liked the way we stuck together and that’s got a lot to do with Coach Olberts. He’s a great coach. And these guys, we just keep plugging.
“The last few days we’ve had some intense practices,” he added. “It all started after our game with Arkansas Baptist (Monday). We kind of felt embarrassed. We didn’t feel like we played with the level of intensity we thought we should.”
“I told them, I think Wednesday afternoon in practice we kind of became a team,” Olberts added. “Ever since Wednesday, we’ve really done some good things. We’ve just become a much better team the last couple of days. Of course, it’ll sure help to have Josh Carroll and Stacy Moulder back, but I don’t think they’ll be back for awhile.”
Carroll and Moulder, both seniors, are out with injuries. Carroll, the team’s top scorer, has an ankle injury and Moulder, the tallest player on the team, has a leg injury.
But in Carroll’s absence different players have stepped up offensively to take up the slack, with Whittington serving as a constant, reliable source of points and clutch play. Against CAC, Thomas, back from his own injury, came through with 18 points and 11 boards. Against, Mills it was James and Beene.
“That’s the best thing about our team,” Beene said. “Anybody can step up on any given day and, no matter who it is, they can always pull us through and help us win. We lost Josh and he was the guy that did it for us most but since then we’ve had some guys step up and make some big shots and make the plays.”
Beene couldn’t believe it when he was told he had 19.
“I didn’t even know it,” he said. “I didn’t think I broke 10. Whenever I got an open shot, I just shot it. I missed some but I didn’t get down on myself. One time, I got the ball in the lane and I wasn’t really going to shoot it. I passed it back out and everybody on the bench told me to shoot it. It just came back to me and I said, ‘Oh, well …’ and shot it.”
Bryant built a lead of 9-4 early before Davidson came in off the bench for Mills and canneda pair of 3’s in short order. The Comets tied the game at 11 before the Hornets got their fastbreak going for layups by Brown and Beene. The former came off an eye-catching dish from Thornton.
The Hornets led 16-14 at the end of the period.
Brown fed James inside for a basket to start the second quarter, giving the Hornets a 4-point edge, the largest by either team in the period. The game was tied at 23 at the half.
Mills gained a slight edge early in the third quarter then, after Beene trimmed it to 32-31 with 2:14 left, Davidson flushed another 3. Following a Bryant miss, Bemis converted a pair of free throws and the Comets had their largest lead of the game at 37-31.
But Whittington fed James for a hoop inside and the Hornets forced a Mills turnover that Beene cashed in with a driving reverse layup at the buzzer to make it 37-35 going into the fourth quarter.
Still, the Comets clung to the lead until, with 2:41 left, Whittington hit a free throw, James grabbed the rebound off his missed second shot and scored to put the Hornets on top 42-41.
A driving hoop by the Comets’ Brandon Weem was answered by Beene’s drive for 2 then Jefferson pumped in the 3 that set the scene for Thornton’s heroics at the end of regulation.