Bryant stuns ’Cats, earn trip
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 continue posting 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
EL DORADO — Whether it put them in the Class AAAAA State Tournament or not, the Bryant Hornets’ 62-51 win at El Dorado on Thursday, Feb. 21, was one to savor.
El Dorado’s Wildcats had been a major nemesis for the Hornets since the arrival of their new coach in 1998-99. In fact, the Wildcats had run roughshod (emphasis on the rough part) over the Hornets, particularly in El Dorado where the students got rowdy, the ‘Cats got pumped and it got ugly fast.
It’d even gotten to the point where the Hornets were so wary of the physical nature of their games with El Dorado, they were taken out before they’d even hit the floor.
They had hoped their slim chances of making State wouldn’t come down to the final make-up game at El Dorado, but that’s where the Hornets found themselves. They went in, in fact, thinking they not only needed a win but for either Lake Hamilton or Pine Bluff to lose in order for them to qualify. So, on the long bus ride home after the game, there was plenty of anxiety. A police officer at El Dorado had given them hope when he mentioned as they were leaving that he’d heard that Pine Bluff had lost at Texarkana.
It turned out to be false hope, however. Pine Bluff had won to improve to 10-4 in league play. Lake Hamilton had won to forge a three-way tie for third with El Dorado and the Hornets. That was three teams and only two State bids to be had and the feeling was that Bryant would be the odd team out.
Still, Hornets assistant coach Chad Withers kept going back over the tiebreakers that he and head coach Leo Olberts had reviewed earlier in the day. They’d left the faxed copy of the tiebreaker procedures in the basketball office. The team bus stopped in Sheridan and the closer and closer they got to Bryant the more and more the feeling that the Hornets were in grew.
You see, the first tiebreaker in a three-way tie is head-to-head. Bryant had split with the other two teams but El Dorado had defeated Lake Hamilton twice. The question that had to be answered was, did that give El Dorado a leg up or Lake Hamilton a step down.
Back at the gym, finally, the coaches got the bad news on the scores of the other games, but upon reading the tiebreaking procedures again, hope grew. They verified their interpretation with athletic director Tom Farmer and went home with a call to the Arkansas Activities Association due the next morning.
In Hot Springs the next day, the Lake Hamilton Wolves were celebrating a State bid and it was being reported in the local newspaper they were in.
Meanwhile, Olberts called Jimmy Coats, long-time executive director of the AAA. Coats, who said he and the staff had been looking at the developing situation in the AAAAA-South, confirmed Olberts’ interpretation and that the Hornets were indeed a State Tournament team.
Farmer called Lake Hamilton athletic director Richard Payton and delivered the news. And it was news to Payton. Farmer read the tiebreaking rules to his colleague and, in the end, Payton admitted his guys were staying home.
At 16-10 on the season, the Hornets were set to head to Fort Smith on Wednesday, Feb. 27, to take on top-ranked Little Rock Parkview. Ironically, the last time Bryant made the State Tournament in 1997-98, they had to win at El Dorado in a weather delayed game to end the season. They opened against a Parkview team that featured Jason Harrison (now a star at Ole Miss).
It’ll be an early entry into the AAAAA-Central for the Hornets, who move into that league next season.
That’s another reason why the win at El Dorado was so sweet. It was their farewell (for awhile anyway) to the AAAAA-South Conference and a place in El Dorado, they didn’t much enjoy visiting.
The Hornets started the game holding the basketball and frustrating the Wildcats, who usually roar to a fast start at home, get the fans juiced up and then blow people out. But Bryant held onto the ball after the opening tip for a full four minutes — half of the first quarter.
Finally, El Dorado forced a turnover and Will Boyer got a layup. Though delayed by the Hornets’ tactics, the Wildcats seemed to be on their way after that, putting together a 10-2 start that few to 14-4.
But that’s a fairly conservative start for an El Dorado team at home in this rivalry lately. The Hornets stayed tough. Josh Ridge scored off a nice baseline jumper then Jaston Carter made a steal and layup. After an El Dorado miss, Carter fed Ridge for a layup that beat the buzzer and Bryant was back within 14-10.
Repeatedly, the Hornets caught the Cats napping on inbounds plays under the Bryant basket. Carter scored off such a play early in the second quarter and, moments later, Jeremy Reeves tenaciously followed his own miss to tie the game at 14.
El Dorado got on a run again but couldn’t shake the Hornets. Their margin went back to 9 before Bryant’s Dwayne Chumley drove the baseline for a layup and Ridge hit two free throws to make it a 5-point game at the half.
El Dorado led 33-28 midway through the third quarter when Carter, on his way to a game-high 25 points, drilled a 3-pointer and, after a Wildcats miss, Reeves, who scored 10, again burned the home team on an inbounds play, tying the game at 33.
It was nip-and-tuck after that. El Dorado was clinging to a 40-37 lead going into the fourth quarter, but the Cats turned the ball over to start the final period and Carter took advantage, hitting a jumper in the lane as he was fouled. His free throw would’ve tied it but he missed.
But Boyer misfired for El Dorado and the Hornets took advantage as Carter rifled a pass into the low block to Reeves, who put Bryant ahead 41-40.
The game was tied at 43 and 48 after that. With 2:25 left, Hornets’ senior Scott Yant — the only Bryant starter that didn’t score in double figures in the game — came through with his lone field goal. It was, as it turned out, a game-busting 3-pointer.
When El Dorado’s Damion Atkins could hit just one free throw in response, the Hornets spread the floor after a timeout with 2:05 left. Carter was fouled with 1:46 to go. He had been 0 for 2 at the line to that point in the game, but when he sank both shots at that point, it started a streak in which he hit 9 of 10 the rest of the way.
Boyer misfired and, with 1:23 to go, Carter was fouled again. He made it a 55-49 lead for Bryant.
Boyer scored and was fouled with 1:12 to go but couldn’t convert the free throw. That was the last El Dorado would score. Carter hit two more free throws, Yant made a steal and Carter made one more free throw.
As the reality of the outcome began to sink in on the Wildcats they gave out. Carter swiped a pass and Chumley (14 points) got a layup. Yant made another steal and Carter finished up the game-ending 14-3 run with his final pair of freebies.
Now, what is it they say about he who laughs last?