For more photos of this event by Rick Nation, go here; photos also courtesy of Paul Dotson
LITTLE ROCK — Sparked by seniors Traylon Payne and Catrell Wallace, the Bryant Hornets rushed out to a 10-0 lead to start their 6A-Central Conference battle with the Little Rock Catholic Rockets on Tuesday night. Catholic head coach Todd Ezzi called a timeout during which Bryant head coach Mike Abrahamson assured his players.
“They got off to a rough start, but we knew they weren’t going away,” Abrahamson said. “They’re a tough team. They’ve got a bunch of tough kids and they’re well coached. They play well at home. We knew that. We knew they weren’t going to go away.”
Bryant led 13-2 at the end of the first quarter. With that strong start and a big finish, the Hornets came away with a 69-50 victory that thrust them into a three-way tie for third in the league.
Payne went on to score a game-high 24 points. Camren Hunter had 14, Will Diggins 11. Wallace and A.J. Jenkins finished with 7 apiece.
The Rockets were paced by Warren Heird with 13, who hit two triples. Ben Biernat, Parker Lloyd, Jake Anwar and Nathan Johnson each hit 3’s as well. Brian Flanagan scored 8 points and Johnson 7.
“We tried to speed them up but credit to them,” said Abrahamson. “They really shot the ball well. I think they were 7 of 12 from 3, which is amazing. That kept them in it. They played good half-court defense.”
The Rockets rallied in the second quarter but still trailed 28-18 at the half. It was 45-34 going into the fourth quarter.
“Our guys, it wasn’t our prettiest performance, but we just gave incredible effort, just phenomenal effort all night long,” noted the Hornets’ coach. “As they were hitting 3’s and staying in the game, no one waivered. No one panicked. No one got down. We just stayed the course. I was proud of that.”
Part of that calm was Abrahamson himself, but he said of his players, “I think they just knew we were pressuring. They knew we had a plan. I think, in some ways, on the bench, I knew (the Rockets) were fouling a lot. They were getting in foul trouble. They looked like they were feeling the pressure some, even when they were hitting 3’s. You could see signs on play stoppages, our conditioning and our athleticism was a factor, which is what we wanted.”
The Hornets got ahead by attacking the basket.
“They did a good job of slowing that down some,” Abrahamson mentioned as a factor in the Rockets keeping it close for a while. “They kept us out of the lane a little bit better. And they started scoring a little bit.”
In the fourth quarter, the Hornets jumped into a full-court trapping defense that turned the Rockets over and helped extend the lead.
The lead was 49-39 before Wallace rebounded a teammate’s miss and scored. Aidan Adams followed with a steal that led to a free throw for Wallace. Hunter made a steal and a layup and, the lead grew to 54-39.
Catholic’s Kennedy Washington hit a free throw but, on his missed second shot, Jenkins rebounded and went coast-to-coast for a basket that extended the margin to 16.
Lloyd countered with a trey but an offensive-rebound basket by Hunter was followed by a 3 from Adams off an inbounds play. The lead grew to 61-43.
The Rockets tried to press but the Hornets burned them in the last two minutes. Twice Hunter pushed the ball and dropped off passes for Diggins. In between, Payne made a steal and layup.
That little run produced Bryant’s largest lead of 21 with 1:30 to go.
The victory improved the Hornets to 13-9 overall and 5-4 in league play, tied with Cabot and Conway. Little Rock Central, which didn’t play on Tuesday when their game against Fort Smith Northside was postponed since Little Rock public schools were closed due to widespread illness. The Tigers are 4-4 in the league. They’ll be Bryant’s next opponent at home this Friday.