LITTLE ROCK — There was every reason to believe that the Bryant Lady Hornets might have a letdown on Tuesday night at Mount St. Mary Academy, after playing the No. 1-ranked Fort Smith Northside Lady Bears so close in their 6A-Central Conference opener on Friday.
But the Lady Hornets broke out to an 8-0 lead and never looked back on the way to a 51-19 victory at the Belles’ McAuley Center, their first league win.
“So many good things happened on Friday night, to come up short against the top-ranked team in the state,” recounted Lady Hornets head coach Brad Matthews. “If there ever was a trap game, this was it, coming off a very emotional home game and on the road. But not only did we get through it, we got through it with a lot of good stuff. I’m really proud of our kids.”
The victory improved Bryant to 10-3 overall this season and 1-1 in conference play going into this Friday’s home contest against the Little Rock Central Lady Tigers.
“This is a tough place to play and, to come over here and win comfortably, it’s pretty rare,” Matthews noted. “I’m glad this one is behind us. Last year, North Little Rock struggled over here, and they ended up winning it all. It’s a tough place. They’ve got a great crowd. It’s so loud in here, a really great environment.”
The acoustics of the old chapel turned gym are such that you almost have to yell to communicate even if you’re side by side.
India Atkins led the Lady Hornets with 14 points including a trio of 3’s. McKenzie Muse had three triples as well on the way to 11 points. Tierra Trotter finished with 10 and six others contributed to the scoring.
Celena Martin and Kalia Walker had 4 each with Robyn Gordon, Ivory Russ, Jada Deaton and Lexie Taylor scoring 2 apiece.
Matthews recalled his team’s opening salvo. “T (Trotter) hit a good shot early, a little step-back, India hit a 3 and McKenzie hit a 3 and it was 8-0. You know, when you make shots early, you just don’t feel as much pressure, especially on the road. Then it makes your defense better. It makes everybody more active. So, to get off to a really good start on the road was really important.”
At the end of the first quarter, the Lady Hornets held a 14-4 advantage. It was 31-10 by halftime. Atkins hit two of her 3’s in the second stanza and Muse had one.
“The first half, we tried to force some pressure and we did a good job,” Matthews said. “We forced a lot of turnovers but picked up some fouls, which broke our momentum a little bit. The first quarter-and-a-half was probably as good as we’ve played on both ends of the floor together all year. We shot it well early, took care of the ball early, made plays and played really good defense.
“We tried to force them to play at a speed they really didn’t want to play at,” he explained. “Really, that’s another part of pressure people don’t always understand. It’s not just about steals or turnovers. It’s about trying to make the other team play at pace that they’re not comfortable at. Tonight, that’s what we really needed to do.
“It’s not the case every night,” the coach acknowledged, “but that is when our team plays best, when we’re pressing and going up and down. We try to balance it out depending on who we’re playing and how we play.”
The Belles’ best quarter was the third but, still, Bryant held a 43-18 lead going into the final stanza. The Lady Hornets held them to a free throw in the last eight minutes as Matthews subbed liberally.
Anya Ranaraja led Mount with 5 points. Catherine Althoff had 4.
“The second half, we were in some foul trouble,” Matthews mentioned. “We didn’t want to get too much deeper into foul trouble, so we went back to our half-court, base stuff and really kept them out of rhythm. I was really proud of our defensive effort. I saw a lot of good stuff tonight.
“We’re really getting better and better as the games go on,” he asserted. “We’ve just got to keep building on it, keep building on the positives and start reducing the negatives.
“I was really proud of our kids,” he concluded. “We had two good days of prep, Sunday and Monday, and it really carried over. I’m starting to see improvement in that area, carrying over our game plans, seeing what we’re not doing well then working toward fixing it.”