Not much was going the Bryant Hornets’ way on Thursday night. The visiting Pine Bluff Zebras were knocking down shots, playing physical, tough defense. And they led much of the game.
The Hornets were hanging around, but they were just 2 of 14 on 3-point shots through the first three quarters and were being out-rebounded considerably by the taller Z’s. To top it off, junior Khasen Robinson, one of the most experienced returning players for the Hornets suffered a leg injury that may cost him the season.
Sparked by a change in defense, a series of 3’s early in the fourth quarter and the sheer will of senior star Camren Hunter, the Hornets surged late, however, and escaped with a 50-46 victory.
“Pine Bluff is good,” acknowledged Hornets head coach Mike Abrahamson. “I pushed our schedule back because of our football players. We’ll get them next week. As we started preparing for this game, I’m thinking, ‘Why did I schedule this game?’ Because they’re so tough.
“I’m just proud of our guys,” he asserted. “It was such a tough game and, gosh, a lot of things didn’t go our way. Pine Bluff made us play so rushed early in the game. But our guys hung in there and got better as the game went along, making adjustments and ultimately, somehow, some way, winning that game.”
Hunter finished with 18 ponts and eight rebounds for Bryant. Junior Kade Ruffner added 11 and senior Aiden Adams had 7.
“Cam, being the player that he is, he kind of put us on his back,” Abrahamson said. “That doesn’t mean that nobody else made plays. But he kind of took control of the game and got to the basket, got to the free-throw line. Aiden Adams hit a few big 3’s. Kade hit a big 3. We took a couple of charges there late. We kept making big play after big play.”
Pine Bluff had scored the last two buckets of the third quarter and held a 38-31 lead despite the Hornets’ adjustments. But Hunter hit a long 3 to open the scoring in the fourth quarter and it kind of opened up a barrage.
Pine Bluff’s Jabbar Spellman hit a layup to make it 40-34. After a Zebra timeout at the 6:08 mark, Adams popped back-to-back 3’s and suddenly, the game was tied at 40. A Pine Bluff turnover — one of 22 in the game, including eight in the fourth quarter — led to a layup for Landyn Newburn off a dish from Hunter, who followed up with a three-point play.
Down 45-40, the Zebras started getting the ball inside to 6’5” post Jordan Harris. He scored twice to cut the margin to 45-44.
But Ruffner, taking a kick-out feed from Newburn, buried a clutch triple to extend the lead again.
Pine Bluff wound up scoring just eight points in the fourth quarter.
“We did start getting stops,” said Abrahamson. “We went to the press. We had to try something new going into the second half. I thought we were playing good defense in the first half, but the game was just slow and stale. We just had to try to create some more opportunities.
“They were really getting in us, defensively,” he noted. “So, we weren’t doing a very good job of running our half-court offense. We just had to change the pace a little bit and the guys really did well with it.”
Troy’Reon Ramos led the Zebras with 13 points include three treys. Two of those came in the third quarter to keep Pine Bluff ahead. Harris added 10 points but missed four free throws including two down the stretch.
Armand Buchannan finished with 8 points, all in the first half. X’Zeavion Barnett came off the bench to add 8 for the Zebras but he did not score in the fourth quarter.
To start the game, Pine Bluff ran out to an 8-1 lead including 3’s by Jalen Tatum and Ramos. After a timeout, Ruffner canned a triple from the corner and Robinson added a pair of free throws to make it a 2-point game.
That was the margin at the end of the opening quarter, 12-10.
It was 16-13 midway through the second period. Hunter took a charge to give his team a chance to make it closer, but Barnett made a steal and a layup to start a 6-0 burst.
Down 22-15, the Hornets got a big bucket from Jalen Montgomery, who was driven to the floor on the contact. Unable to continue for the time being, Montgomery’s free throw was taken by sophomore James Billingsley, who made it 22-18.
Adams took a charged to get the Hornets a chance for a late basket. Hunter was fouled with :31.3 to go and converted once at the line to set the halftime margin at 22-19.
Two 3’s by Ramos helped the Zebras increase the margin to 28-20. Hunter scored on a drive to the rack then Montgomery hit a pull-up jumper in the lane. Down 4, the Hornets forced a shot clock violation to earn a chance to get closer only to have an illegal screen cost them the opportunity at that point.
Pine Bluff pushed the margin back to 8 but Ruffner blocked a shot at one end and hit a 3 at the other to give the Hornets a spark. A reverse layup by Newburn had Bryant within 34-31 going into the final minutes of the third.
But Barnett hit a 15-foot jumper and, off a Bryant turnover, Harris scored inside to produce the 38-31 lead that was in place to start the final period.
The Hornets return to action on Thursday, Dec. 10, when they host the Maumelle Hornets. A game on Friday, Dec. 11, at Little Rock Parkview has been cancelled.
HORNETS 50, ZEBRAS 46
Score by quarters
Pine Bluff 12 10 16 8 — 46
BRYANT 10 9 12 19 — 50
Tatum 2-9 0-0 5, Ramos 5-10 0-0 13, C.Adams 0-1 0-0 0, Buchannan 4-12 0-0 8, Harris 5-9 0-4 10, Barnett 4-7 0-0 8, Dendy 0-2 0-0 0, Crutchfield 0-0 0-0 0, Spellman 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 21-52 (40%) 0-4 (0%) 46.
Ruffner 4-11 0-0 11, Hunter 6-18 5-11 18, Montgomery 2-3 1-2 5, A.Adams 2-5 1-2 7, Brunson 0-1 0-2 0, Robinson 1-1 2-2 4, George 0-3 0-0 0, Newburn 2-4 0-2 4, Billingsley 0-0 1-1 1, Wallace 0-0 0-0 0. Totals17-46 (40%) 10-22 (45%) 50.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 6-20 (Ruffner 3-7, A.Adams 2-5, Hunter 1-7, George 0-1), Pine Bluff 4-18 (Ramos 3-7, Tatum 1-4, Buchannon 0-5, C.Adams 0-1, Barnett 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 14, Pine Bluff 18. Rebounds: Bryant 14-17 31 (Hunter 0-8 8, Ruffner 5-3 8, A.Adams 2-3 5, Brunson 2-1 3, Montgomery 1-1 2, Robinson 1-1, Newburn 2-0 2, George 1-0 1), Pine Bluff 16-23 39 (Tatum 4-8 12, Barnett 1-5 6, Buchannon 4-2 6, Harris 1-4 5, Ramos 2-1 3, C.Adams 0-1 1, Spellman 1-0 1, team 3-2 5). Team fouls:Bryant 13, Pine Bluff 22. Fouled out: Bryant, Brunson; Pine Bluff, Tatum.