CONWAY — Describing his team, Bryant Hornets freshman head coach Tyler Posey said, “A very aggressive rebounding team, one that really attacks the boards and secures them, gets it out on the break in transition off that outlet pass, and a finishing team at the rim.
He added, however, “That wasn’t us tonight.”
At least not the entire game, he acknowledged. Posey’s Hornets did just enough to fend off a good Conway Blue Wampus Cats freshman team, 54-49, to open play in the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference.
Will Diggins came through with a three-point play off a feed from Gabe George with :16.9 on the clock to seal the win after the Wampus Cats had cut an 11-point Bryant lead down to 2. The Cats had at least two chances to tie or take the lead before Diggins’ big play.
Landyn Newburn led the Hornets with 19 points including a trio of 3-pointers. Diggins finished with 11, George 10 and Cameron Booth 7. Diggins and Demetrius Sanders led the Hornets with seven rebounds apiece.
Conway Blue got 38 points from two players. Kerion Duncan had 20 and point guard R’Omarrion Fields 18. But, with a chance to tie the game with :25.4 left, Fields missed the front end of a one-and-one. Sanders rebounded, got an outlet pass to George, who fed Diggins. His basket appeared to actually come from behind the backboard a bit.
It was the final pre-Christmas contest for the Hornets, who improved to 7-3 overall. It was their third win in a row and fifth in the last six games. They’ll return to action on Thursday, Dec. 27, in the Kameron Hale Invitational Tournament at Lake Hamilton.
“It was a good win,” Posey acknowledged. “It’s tough to play on the road. It’s back to the drawing board but it was a good start for us (in conference).”
The Hornets led 48-43 with 3:17 left in the game. They continued to push the ball on offense. Turnovers and missed shots allowed Conway Blue to rally. The Cats were actually down just 1 with just over two minutes left and had possession of the ball with a chance to take the lead.
But, after a timeout, both Fields and Omarion Pace misfired.
“I don’t know what we were doing, honestly,” Posey said. “We were saying, we’re taking open layups but that’s all we’re taking and that didn’t happen tonight. We kind of got bailed out by a big shot by Will.”
The Hornets broke out to a 10-3 lead in the opening quarter. Newburn had 6 of his points in that opening salvo including his first 3.
A three-point play by Fields got his team going and the Cats cut the margin to 10-7 going into the final 30 seconds of the quarter. That’s when Sanders found the range inside and, right before the break, Diggins was fouled. He converted twice at the free-throw line to make it 14-7 going into the second period.
Duncan and Diggins traded baskets then Conway Blue’s Kyler Spencer added a free throw. But a pair of drives by Newburn had the margin back to 10, 20-10.
The Cats whittled it down to 20-16, forcing a Bryant timeout. When play resumed, Newburn splashed another triple and George followed up with a pair of free throws to make it 25-16 going into the final two minutes of the half.
The Hornets were up 26-20 at the intermission but Posey wasn’t happy.
“I told them I didn’t recognize who they were in the first half,” he related. “If they didn’t have ‘Bryant’ on their jerseys, I wouldn’t know who they were.”
Newburn’s third trey early in the third quarter had the Hornets up 33-23 only to have Fields score, make a steal and score again. Up by 6, Bryant got a layup by Booth off an inbounds play. Gavin Burton popped a troika and Booth scored again and, suddenly, the lead was 40-27 and Conway Blue was calling a timeout.
“We started to get back to our identity and looked more like ourselves and built that lead,” Posey said, “then erased the names again (at the end).”
In the final 2:30, George accounted for all of Bryant’s points, going 4 for 4 at the free-throw line. Sparked by Duncan, the Cats’ rallied to within 44-37 going into the final stanza.
Isaiah Kearney’s layup started the scoring in the fourth. Over the next four minutes, however, only George’s jumper from the elbow added to the Hornets’ total as Conway Blue trimmed it to 48-47.
After their missed opportunities, the Cats, caught up on fouls. Finally, with 1:33 left, they sent Newburn to the line where he made the front end of the bonus. After another Conway miss, George drove to the rack and missed but there was Diggins who rebounded, missed and followed with a basket as he was fouled.
Though he was unable to complete the three-point play, he would come through later, after Duncan had cut the margin to 2 with 1:06 remaining, setting up the dramatic finish.
HORNETS 54, WAMPUS CATS 49
Score by quarters
BRYANT 14 12 18 10 — 54
Conway Blue 7 13 17 12 — 49
Newburn 7-10 2-6 19, Burton 1-8 0-0 3, Booth 3-4 1-2 7, George 2-15 6-6 10, Diggins 4-10 3-7 11, Sanders 1-3 0-0 2, Kearney 1-2 0-0 2, Williams 0-0 0-0 0. Totals19-52 (37%) 12-21 (57%) 54.
WAMPUS CATS 49
Fields 9-19 18, Cowles 0-2 1-2 1, Pace 0-3 1-2 1, Duncan 8-13 4-6 20, Spencer 2-5 1-3 5, Adams 2-5 0-0 4, Everette 0-0 0-0 0. Totals22-50 (44%) 7-15 (47%) 49.
Three-point field goals:Bryant 4-13 (Newburn 3-5, Burton 1-5, George 0-3), Conway Blue 0-4 (Fields 0-1, Pace 0-1, Spencer 0-1, Everette 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 18, Conway Blue 20. Rebounds:Bryant 14-19 33 (Diggins 4-3 7, Sanders 2-5 7, Booth 2-4 6, Newburn 2-2 4, Burton 1-1 2, George 1-1 2, Kearney 0-1 1, team 2-2 4), Conway Blue 10-25 35 (Duncan 2-6 8, Spender 2-6 8, Fields 4-3 7, Adams 0-5 5, Pace 1-3 4, Cowles 1-0 1, Everette 0-1 1, team 0-1 1). Team fouls:Bryant 15, Conway Blue 16. Fouled out:Bryant, Booth; Conway Blue, Pace.