Stretch run lifts Bryant to win
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
RUSSELLVILLE — Though it’s not actually a mathematical certainty, for all intents, the Bryant Hornets assured themselves of a second consecutive trip to the Class 7A State Tournament with a 47-38 victory over the Russellville Cyclones.
Ironically, the game was played on a night when real and deadly cyclones were reeking havoc across the state, one in Atkins just a few miles away from where the two teams were preparing to play.
In fact, the junior varsity game (and thus the whole schedule of games) was delayed when the emergency warning sirens went off in Russellville. Those on hand were taken into a safe area below ground level at the gym until the “all-clear” was given.
The win improved the Hornets to 13-10 overall and 5-5 in the 7A-Central Conference with season-sweeps over both of the teams (Russellville and Pine Bluff) that could catch them in the race for the sixth and final State tourney bid from the league. With four games left to play, the Cyclones (11-12, 2-8) would have to win out while the Hornets lose out for Bryant to be denied.
But the Hornets are now looking to move up in the seeding with two teams (North Little Rock and Cabot) with four losses, two more (Conway and Little Rock Catholic) with three, and league leading Conway, a team that had to go to overtime to beat the Hornets at home earlier this season, with two.
Conway was set to visit Bryant on Friday, Feb. 8 (see related story).
At Russellville, the Hornets returned to the formula that had helped them win their other conference victories. They stayed close when they didn’t lead through the first three quarters then surged to the lead in the fourth and held on by converting free throws.
The work at the line (12 of 14 in the fourth quarter) was a major factor particularly in light of Russellville’s troubles there. The Cyclones, trying to keep it close, converted just 5 of 12 free throws in the fourth quarter.
“Our post guys, both Hunter (Sample) and Tim (Floyd), scored some around the basket in the second half and that was big because we outsized them,” noted head coach Mark Smith. “We had to score inside and free up some of our shooters. We finally had a couple of shots fall and, of course, the free throws were huge for us down the stretch. Every guy that stepped to the line really delivered for us.”
Floyd, Zach Lewis, Chad Knight and Brandon Cowart all hit free throws down the stretch. Cowart, in his first game back after injuring his knee against Catholic on Jan. 29, and Dijon Benton drew praise from Smith.
“I thought that Dijon and Brandon came in off the bench and played big,” he said. “Brandon’s been hurt. He was out the last game and we missed him. We asked him to play a lot of minutes tonight and he stepped up and really did a great job. The guy’s got a lot of heart, a lot of heart. Dijon stepped up big for us.”
Part of that stepping up involved defense as the Hornets frustrated the Cyclones’ top scorer Jared Williamson, holding him to just 2 points. Gunner A.J. Broadnax scored 18 points in the game including five 3-pointers, a couple from well beyond the arc and a couple of others with a defender in his face. But Broadnax didn’t have a field goal after his 3-pointer at the 3:51 mark of the third quarter. He was held to three free throws in the fourth.
“We got some stops when we needed to,” Smith commented. “Zach and Brandon and Dijon — those were the main three guys that were gutting it out for us defensively against (Broadnax and Williamson). (Broadnax) is a heck of a player.”
Broadnax hit a trio of his triples in the first quarter as Russellville claimed a 13-8 lead. The margin grew to 18-11 in the second period before the Hornets rallied with treys from Benton and Floyd that made it 18-17 at the half.
In the third quarter, two more 3’s by Broadnax helped the Cyclones push the lead to 27-22 and when Terrell Carter added a basket to start the fourth period, the margin grew to 7.
That’s when the Hornets made the push to take the lead. Benton hit a driving jumper and, after Russellville missed three chances to score in one trip, Floyd got free behind the defense and took a splendid pass from Cowart for a dunk. Moments later, the Hornets had it back when Carter charged. Knight, who had been shut out to that point, picked a great moment to get going, draining a 3 that tied the game at 29.
Broadnax snapped the tie with a free throw with 3:57 left but after he missed the second, Floyd hit a jumper from 12 feet to give Bryant its first lead since it was 5-3.
Williamson hit a free throw to tie it at 31 but Knight’s spinning drive to the rack gave the Hornets the lead for good with 3:05 to go.
The teams traded points for awhile. With 1:39 left, Russellville’s Derrick Owens hit a free throw to get the get his team within 38-35. And the Cyclones got a chance to get closer or to tie but Williamson misfired and, after an offensive rebound by the Cyclones, Knight made a steal which led to two free throws for Floyd which started the Hornets’ parade to the stripe that allowed them to pull away.
“We just had to execute better,” Smith commented. “We still took some ill-advised shots but our execution was a whole lot better the second half than it was in the first half on both ends of the floor. And our energy picked up. That’s the thing, if things don’t go right, we start getting a little sluggish and we don’t do some things right. But finally it did go right in the second half and the guys caught fire.
“It’s like I told them,” he continued, “‘Basketball is a game of waves. You’ve got to play through the bad ones. If you don’t, it becomes a tidal wave and you dig yourself in too deep of a hole.’ Tonight we dug a little bit of a hole but we responded great and got out of it and got a big win.”