NORTH LITTLE ROCK — It’s not often that a basketball team shoots 23 percent from the field and 54 percent from the free-throw line and has a chance to win at the end. But that’s where the Bryant Hornets were Thursday night against the Central Arkansas Christian Academy Mustangs at the annual OrthoArkansas/CAC Invitational Tournament.
In fact, the Hornets had a 34-33 lead with 1:37 left to play.
They were there because they’d done everything else so well. They out-rebounded the Mustangs 34-31 including a whopping 16 boards on the offensive end. They’d forced 17 turnovers while committing 13, while holding CAC to 35 percent shooting from the field.
But after Romen Martin’s free throws at 1:37 to go put the Hornets on top after they’d fallen behind for the first time since overcoming a 22-14 halftime deficit in the third quarter. At the other end, CAC’s 6-6 guard Corey Smith followed his own miss and scored to put his team on top by a point.
Bryant head coach Mike Abrahamson called a timeout with 1:10 left and set up a play. Martin got an open look from 3-point range but rushed it and missed.
After two free throws by the Mustangs’ Chandler Hamilton, the Hornets worked a play to get an open look from the corner for junior Kevin Hunt but it ironed out and, with :16.5 left, CAC’s Jaleel Johnson put the finishing touches on his team’s 39-34 win.
Bryant put together a 13-2 run to start the third quarter. The Hornets led 28-26 going into the fourth quarter and held a 32-28 lead with 5:29 to go.
With 3:37 left, CAC’s Stephen Flanigan had a chance to tie the game at the line with his team trailing 32-30 but he missed the front end of the one-and-one. But somehow the Mustangs’ Davis Allen came out of the fray with the rebound. The Mustangs got it to Chandler Hamilton in the corner for a 3 that put them ahead with 3:28 left.
No one scored again until Martin’s free throws put the Hornets back on top at 1:37. He got to the line after Bryant senior Wesley Peters made a steal.
“Gosh, our kids are playing so hard,” stated Abrahamson after the game. “I’m so proud of the effort. Not a lot was going well for us offensively. We’re making adjustments and we’re trying and they’re playing so hard.
“We got a lot more offensive rebounds tonight,” he acknowledged. “But it’s like: shoot, miss it, get the rebound, shoot, miss it, get the rebound, shoot miss it then they get the rebound. Some possessions were like that.
“We were on the floor all night, diving for the loose balls,” the coach continued. “I thought our defense was pretty good. I was upset with the rebound they got off the free throw in the fourth quarter. Then they got an opportunity when they got three shots with about 1:30 to go that (eventual basket by Smith) gave them the lead. We have one guy that’s just totally watching the guy jump, rebound, miss it, same scenario until they make one.
“And that’s on me,” he declared. “Everything’s on me because I don’t have them prepared to block out in those moments. I don’t have us poised enough in those moments on offense to come down and trust things more. We run a set out of the timeout. Romen gets a wide-open 3. I don’t have him prepared for that moment because he kicks his legs out, twists his body and he doesn’t come close. Man, he’s a great kid. He puts so much extra work in. I’m really proud of him. I just have to do a better job of getting them prepared for these moments. We’ve got to keep going through it.
“The effort’s there, the character’s there. I think we’re getting better and we’re just going to keep moving forward.”
Bryant continues play in the tournament today at 5:30 against Maumelle then concludes the event on Saturday at 3:30 p.m., against Little Rock Catholic.
Martin finished with a game-high 10 points. Hunt added 8, Antavious Lewis 5. Calvin Allen and Lowell Washington scored 4 each. Washington collected eight rebounds to match Hunt for team honors.
Smith led CAC with 9 points. Johnson had 8, Flanigan and Allen 6 each and Hamilton 5. A trio of Mustangs had 5 boards each.
The Hornets went the entire first quarter without a field goal, going 0 of 8 from the field. But they trailed just 11-4 and CAC needed a pair of 3’s in the final 1:04 to manage that.
Hunt produced the first Bryant field goal early in the second quarter. Smith and Peters traded baskets then, with three Hornets picking up their second fouls, the Mustangs pushed the lead to 19-8.
But Bryant held CAC to just a pair of free throws over the final 3:40 of the half and whittled a 20-9 lead down to 22-14 at the intermission.
“I don’t have them poised enough in the beginning of the game to execute,” Abrahamson mentioned. “At the beginning of the game, we kind of have a couple of things scripted out and we’re not executing. It all comes back to me.”
Bryant would’ve actually been closer had its free throws have fallen. After making the first four of the night, the Hornets wound up 9 of 20 over the final three periods including 2 of 7 in the second stanza.
“That continues to be an issue,” Abrahamson allowed. “I don’t really know how to handle it. Some people say ignore it. Some people say face it head on. I’m kind of a guy that, by nature, I face things head on. So we address it and I can promise anybody that reads this, we’re shooting. We’re practicing. We’re going to keep doing it and do it more and I think, as these kids get more comfortable, they’ll start finishing around the basket better. They’ll start making free throws better. We’ll execute beginning and ending games better.”
A driving jumper by Calvin Allen started the Hornets on the right track to open the third quarter. A stickback by Washington trimmed the lead to 4. Smith hit a short jumper at the 5:45 mark then the Mustangs began to struggle with turnovers and misses, going until there was 2:02 left in the period to score again.
With 4:31 left in the third, Martin was fouled following his own miss. Though he couldn’t get either free throw to go down, Hunt rebounded the second miss and got it back outside to Martin, who drained a 3, cutting it to 24-21.
At the other end, Washington blocked a shot by Smith. The ball went out of bounds and CAC retained possession. But Washington swatted Smith a second time inside and this time collected the rebound.
That led to another trip to the line for Martin who drained both shots to make it a 1-point game at 3:31. He followed up with a steal and Lewis gave the Hornets the lead when he grabbed the carom off a teammate’s miss and scored at 3:16.
Hunt made a steal and cashed in with a pair of free throws to make it 27-24.
The Hornets were up 27-26 going into the final minute of the quarter when, off a miss by CAC’s Kamryn Vick, Lewis skied for a rebound only to be accidentally undercut by Vick. He went down in some obvious pain, clutching his knee. He was helped from the court but, fortunately, returned to the bench during the fourth quarter.
In the meantime, Martin, who had gone to the bench with his fourth foul earlier in the quarter, returned to convert one of two free throws to make it 28-26 going into the final period.
Ketrick Wilson made a steal but the Hornets were unable to take advantage. So when Johnson scored, the game was tied. But Hunt made a nice play off a drive to the rack to put the Hornets back up and, after a timeout, the Mustangs suffered another turnover. Off a nice inbounds pass from Calvin Allen, Washington scored inside and, with 5:29 left, Bryant had its largest lead at 32-28.
Flanigan cut into the margin then both teams missed chances to change the score before Flanigan’s missed free throw and Hamilton’s 3 set the stage for the final series of events.
MUSTANGS 39, HORNETS 34
Score by quarters
BRYANT 4 10 14 6 — 34
CAC 11 11 4 13 — 39
C.Allen 1-5 2-3 4, Lewis 2-4 1-2 5, Wilson 0-1 1-2 1, Martin 1-10 7-12 10, Washington 2-8 0-0 4, Peters 1-3 0-1 2, Hunt 3-11 2-4 8, Moody 0-2 0-0 0, Walker 0-0 0-0 0, Turner 0-0 0-0 0, Moore 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 10-44 (23%) 13-24 (54%) 34.
Stafford 0-2 2-4, 2, Smith 4-9 1-3 9, D.Allen 2-4 0-0 6, Johnson 2-4 4-8 8, Flanigan 2-9 2-7 6, Vick 0-3 0-0 0, Hamilton 1-3 2-2 5, Rosenzweig 1-2 0-0 3, Leonard 0-0 0-0 0, Corbell 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 12-34 (35%) 11-24 (46%) 39.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 1-12 (Martin 1-5, Hunt 0-5, C.Allen 0-1, Peters 0-1), CAC 4-11 (D.Allen 2-3, Hamilton 1-3, Rosenzweig 1-2, Stafford 0-2, Smith 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 13, CAC 17. Rebounds: Bryant 16-18 34 (Washington 4-4 8, Hunt 3-5 8, Lewis 2-3 5, Martin 3-1 4, Moody 1-1 2, C.Allen 1-0 1, Wilson 0-1 1, Peters 1-0 1). Team fouls: Bryant 21, CAC 18. Fouled out: CAC, D.Allen.