Hornets edge Panthers, 60-57
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
Matt Thornton wears a black wristband around his left bicep when he plays basketball for the Bryant Hornets. He’s worn it in games for a long time. It’s not a fashion statement.
It is, in fact, a memorial.
As a youngster, Thornton played on a team with a boy named Tommy Murray. They became fast friends.
Tragically, however, Murray was killed in an auto accident. Since then, whenever Thornton has taken the court, he’s donned that black band for his fallen friend.
On Thursday, Matt did his old buddy proud, energizing the Bryant Hornets in the fourth quarter with his scoring, rebounding and passing in a 60-57 victory over the rival Benton Panthers.
Thornton scored 7 of his 11 points in the final period including a pair of game-cinching free throws with :14 left. He also came up with a number of crucial rebounds and assists.
Nathan James scored a season-high 18 points, Jared Thomas had 12 and Matt Brown 10 as the Hornets improved to 14-7 overall and 4-5 in the AAAAA-South Conference. It also kept the Hornets unbeaten at home this season as they prepared to host Texarkana on Friday. (Thursday’s game was originally postponed by snow on Jan. 28.)
James hit the basket that put the Hornets ahead to stay, a layup off a great feed from the baseline by Thomas with :50 left to play, one of a number of clutch plays under pressure in the late stages of the game.
The hoop put Bryant ahead 58-57. With :40 to go, Benton point guard Rustin Jessup was fouled, however. With 16 points in the game — 14 in the second half — Jessup had been a key factor in Benton overcoming a 12-point Bryant lead. Along the way, Jessup had converted twice at the line. This time, though, both of his shots rimmed out.
The Panthers got another chance moments later, however. Bryant’s Tad Beene, hampered by an industrial-strength knee brace in the last two games, missed the front end of a one-and-one trip to the line with :30 showing.
But Benton’s Clay Goodwin, who led his team with 17 points in the game, couldn’t get a 12-foot jumper to fall. Thornton grabbed the carom and was fouled with :14 showing.
After he’d increased the lead to 3, Jessup passed on a 3-point try and drove the lane. He missed a short jumper in a crowd only to have teammate Chad Hendrix rebound and knock the ball out of bounds off a Hornets’ player. The Panthers inbounded at their own baseline with :04 to go but had to pass it in deep. Barnes attempted a last-second 3 from 28 feet and came up short as the Hornets held on for the victory.
Benton appeared to have all of the momentum when, with Bryant leading 52-51, Goodwin made a steal and basket. Thornton tied it with a free throw with 2:28 to go then Jessup buried a clutch 3.
Thornton tried to match Jessup’s bomb but missed only to hustle after the rebound. He got the ball to Beene for another attempt from the baseline. It ricocheted off the corner of the backboard but going high and reaching back for the rebound was Brown who gathered himself, scored and drew a foul with 1:41 to go.
Brown’s free throw to complete the game-turning three-point play tied it at 56.
After a timeout, Benton got the ball to Goodwin who couldn’t get a shot to fall. But Hendrix rebounded and was fouled with 1:20 showing. He converted once at the line to give his team the lead that James wound up erasing as the closing drama unfolded.
The Panthers had the upper hand early on, busting out to a 12-4 lead with a deliberate attack that produced a pair of 3’s by Goodwin. A stickback by Beene started a Hornets rally. Unanswered baskets by Thomas and James pulled the Hornets even by the end of the period.
Barnes hit a 3 to start the second quarter and the Panthers led until midway through the period when Brown cut the lead to 1 with a pair of free throws then, after a Benton turnover, split the seam in the Panthers’ zone for a driving layup.
After the two teams exchanged misses, Brown came up with a steal and fed James for a layup. Barned missed a 3 and Thomas crashed the offensive boards for a bucket that gave the Hornets a 22-17 advantage.
Jessup hit a layup then had a chance to close the gap further. But Bryant’s Josh Ridge stepped in to take a charge and, at the other end, Brown’s drive to the hole resulted in a three-point play to bump the margin back up.
Bryant led 27-19 at the half after Beene beat the clock for a layup.
The Hornets’ largest lead was 12 early in the third quarter when Thomas pumped in unanswered hoops and it took Benton nearly four minutes to get its first hoop of the period.
Bryant maintained the advantage for most of the quarter. When Beene knocked down a 12-footer with :18 left, the score was 40-31.
But Jessup scored with :03 left and, on the subsequent inbounds pass, Goodwin intercepted in the corner and fired a quick 3 that swished at the buzzer and suddenly, the Panthers were within 40-36 with a huge swing in the momentum.
That’s when Thornton asserted himself. His drive to the basket produced a trip to the free-throw line to start the final period. He converted once then, after Goodwin hit the offensive glass to cut the margin to 3, Thornton attacked the basket, drew the defense and dished to James for a layup.
Jessup missed, Thornton rebounded and, moments later, took a feed from James for a layup that pumped the lead back up to 45-38.
Another basket by Goodwin interrupted the run but, in turn, Thornton, running the floor aggressively, beat the Panthers’ defense back and burned them with a driving layup.
Benton continued to rally, however, and with 4:25 left, pulled ahead 50-49 on a pair of free throws by Hendrix. Thornton tied it with a free throw, Hendrix hit another then James scored off a nice pass from the baseline by Thomas and the game went back-and-forth from there.