Hornets humble Lions
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
Mr. Hyde went back into hiding and Dr. Jeckyl returned Friday night.
After a couple of ugly outings on the road, the Bryant Hornets returned with another beauty at home Friday, blowing past the first-place Little Rock McClellan Crimson Lions 73-61.
It was almost a must-win situation for the Hornets who earned a season split with the Lions as they improved to 13-6 overall and 3-4 in the AAAAA-South Conference going into a tell-tale week.
The loss knocked McClellan out of sole possession of first place in the league. El Dorado pulled into a virtual tie for the lead with its 73-66 win over Texarkana.
Bryant was set to get another chance at a first-place team on Tuesday with a visit to El Dorado, but the Hornets have struggled on the road. All four of their league losses have been away from home and, considering how well they’ve played at home, that continues to be a quandary.
“Everybody plays better at home,” stated Bryant coach Leo Olberts, for the record. “That’s just natural. Anytime you play on the road, you don’t feel quite as comfortable as you do at home. I think our guys certainly feel like they can win home or away, I know I certainly do. But it does make a difference. I think that, as much as anything . . . on the record.”
The difference for the Hornets seems to show up most in the scoring of guards Tad Beene and Matt Thornton. Beene scored a career-best 30 points in an impressive win over Pine Bluff in the Hornets’ previous home game but then was unable to get into double figures in either of the team’s subsequent games on the road, losses to Camden Fairview and Sheridan. Friday, he came back with another 30-point outburst.
Thornton, who has struggled with his shot since the midseason break, returned to early season form Friday with a 22-point, 13-rebound performance against McClellan.
The answer? Though Olberts wouldn’t comment, the style of play is different in every gym in the league because the officials are not assigned by the conference. Home coaches contract the officials and, naturally, they hire guys that call a game in a style that most suits the home team.
That’s why, for example, some team can play tight, body-checking, wrist-slapping man-to-man defense with piggy-back rebounding at home and the visitor gets to shoot, say, eight free throws (making six) then, later in the season, take that same playing style to that other team’s gym with 42 free throws (with 30 converted) resulting.
It makes a difference.
Friday, Olberts and assistant Chad Withers decided to take a different approach against the bigger, quicker Lions after patience had not paid too well at McClellan.
“We felt like they were so much bigger and they weren’t that good an outside shooting team — even though they knocked down quite a few 3’s tonight — we wanted to definitely play a zone trying to crowd the big people on the inside and just make them beat us from the outside and hope they couldn’t do it. Then, offensively, pushing it every chance we got. We started out pressing. We wanted to make it an up-and-down kind of game. We didn’t want to have to rely on our half-court offense for every point we could get against somebody so much bigger and quicker.
“I thought the guys bought into what we wanted to do and just did a great job with it,” he concluded.
The Hornets’ aggressiveness seemed to surprise the Lions. Bryant shot out to an 8-0 lead. Beene canned a 15-foot jumper, Thornton got free for a pair of layups and Jared Thomas, who added 13 points, knocked down a baseline jumper.
McClellan never led. The Lions cut it to 8-4 and had a chance to get closer after a Bryant turnover but Thornton made a steal, got the ball to Beene who fed Thomas for a three-point play and the Hornets were on their way to building an 18-6 bulge. A 3-pointer by the Lions’ Corey Brownlee at the buzzer trimmed the margin to 9 going into the second period.
Thornton countered with his second 3 of the game to start the quarter. Thomas added a pair of free throws and before the half was over, the Hornets bumped the lead up to as much as 17 as Thornton scored 16 of his points.
Though point guard Matt Brown did not score in the game, his ballhandling and eye-popping passes were key.
Beene had just 4 points at the half, on a field goal and 2-of-4 from the free-throw line. In the second half, he hit a 3, a trio of 2-pointers and knocked down 17 of 22 free throws.
McClellan made a push and trimmed the Bryant lead to 40-31 in the third quarter. But Beene drove for a basket and, after a missed 3-point try by Corey Stokes, got free for a layup off a nice feed from Thomas, who had been pulled out onto the wing to get McClellan’s 6-9 Darius Eason away from the hoop.
The Lions’ 6-8 Jason Plant, who picked up four fouls in the first half including a technical, hit back-to-back hoops but another layup by Beene made it 46-35 going into the fourth quarter.
A 3-pointer by Jamaal Morris made it an 8-point game as the final period unfolded. Thornton then stepped up, scoring off his own miss then making a steal that Beene cashed in with a 3 to make it 51-38.
The Lions were within 8 again with 4:32 left, thanks to unaswered baskets by Eason and Morris (another 3). Beene hit two free throws and Plant scored again but the Lions then went over two minutes without scoring. In that stretch, Beene was fouled three times and converted all six free throws as the lead ballooned to 63-49.
The closest the Lions could get was 7, 65-58 with 1:01 to play. Beene hit a free throw then Nathan James grabbed an offensive rebound and scored to bump it back to 10. Eason lost his cool and drew a technical. Beene hit a free throw to make it 69-58 with :41 left.
A 3 by Keon McDuffie with :22 left was the last the Lions would score. Thornton, Jermaine Smith and Thomas hit free throws after that to set the final score.
Morris led McClellan with 15 points. Starks, Plant and McDuffie each added 10.