By Rob Patrick
CONWAY — When the Bryant Hornets freshman team gets it going, it’s a[more] thing of beauty.
Few teams are able to maintain those stretches but the goal for the Hornets and head coach Jim Pennington is to stretch them out as much as possible, maximize the production.
On Saturday, the Hornets trailed 10-8 going into the final 3:30 of the first half but that’s when they got it going, closing out the second quarter with a 15-2 run that they extended to 20-2 early in the third. The Conway Blue Wampus Kittens rallied but never got closer than the final margin, a 42-34 Bryant win.
J.C. Newborn led the Hornets with 18 points going 7 of 10 from the field, mostly by finishing well inside. Brandan Warner added 12 points and K.J. Hill got 9 to go with a handful of assists and eight rebounds, matching teammate John Winn for game-high honors on the boards.
Now 10-4, the Hornets have won four straight including three in their second tournament championship of the season at Lake Hamilton during the last week of 2011. They’ll travel to Cabot North on Monday, Jan. 9, before beginning play in the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference at home against Benton on Thursday.
“It was a good win after being off for a week,” Pennington stated. “We’ve got to get better with conference coming up Thursday and we will. When something’s on the line, just like in those tournaments — during tournament time and conference time, that’s when you need to be ready.
“We had that spurt in the second quarter then just kind of maintained what was going on,” he said of Saturday’s game. “We didn’t play very well in the second half.
“I’m not very pleased with our defense at all,” he elaborated. “We let them drive it in there and when they got it inside, we didn’t contest their shots then, when we did contest them, we were fouling them. You can tell them to ‘Wall up, wall up’ but they always want to try to get that block. That’s what’s more appealing to them because they watch that stuff on the NBA and everybody going, ‘Ooooo.’”
Conway Blue deployed in a box-and-one defense to start the game, hoping to contain Hornets point guard Hill but Warner made them pay early on by drilling a pair of 3’s as part of a 6-1 opening burst.
Derail McCoy sparked a rally for Conway Blue which resulted in an 8-6 lead going into the second quarter.
Warner scored inside and Conway’s Grant Ellis countered with a pair of free throws to make it 10-8. Newborn began Bryant’s game-turning blitz by converting the front end of a one-and-one after being fouled rebounding.
It stayed 10-9 until Warner got a layup off an inbounds feed from Hill with 3:09 left in the half, which put the Hornets ahead to stay.
Bryant forced a turnover and, after a Conway timeout, the onslaught began in earnest. On consecutive trips up the floor, the Hornets worked a play to clear out the right side for Hill who got a step on the defender and slashed to the basket for layups.
Newborn scored inside and, after a missed 3 by Ellis, got another nice feed from Hill for a layup that made it 19-10. And when Winn followed with a steal and layup, Bryant had its first double-digit lead.
The Hornets nearly forced another turnover but Conway used a timeout to maintain possession with :18.2 left in the half. At the :08.1 mark, McCoy ended a scoreless stretch of over 3:43 with a pair of free throws. But, in turn, Hill laced his way through the Wampus Kittens’ token press and whipped a pass to Newborn under the hoop for a buzzer- beating layup and a 23-12 halftime lead.
To start the second half, Newborn made a sweet move off a drive, spinning into the lane and hitting a scoop shot with his off-hand while being fouled. Though he missed the free throw, Conway missed twice at the other end and Hill cashed in with a 3-pointer that gave the Hornets their largest lead of the game at 28-12 with 4:27 left in the third quarter.
The Hornets managed just 2 points the rest of the quarter, however, and the Kittens were able to trim the margin to 30-20 going into the final period.
To start the fourth, Pennington had his squad spread the floor to massage the clock and to create driving lanes with an open post. Hill took advantage for a layup and, after Conway scored, Warner canned a pair of free throws then made a steal. Newborn produced another 3-point play then got a layup as the Hornets expanded the margin back to 17 at 39-22 with 3:07 left in the game.
McCoy got the Kittens back on track but with a three-point play and, after a Bryant turnover, a 12-foot jumper but Hill fed Newborn again and Austin Green hit a free throw to keep it a double-digit lead until McCoy scored at the buzzer to set the final tally.
HORNETS 42, WAMPUS KITTENS 34
Score by quarter
BRYANT 6 17 7 12 — 42
Conway Blue 8 4 8 14 — 34
Hill 4-7 0-2 9, Warner 4-6 2-2 12, Newborn 7-10 4-6 18, Winn 1-7 0-1 2, Hall 0-1 0-1 0, Fisher 0-4 0-0 0, Withers 0-0 0-0 0, Green 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 16-35 7-14 42.
WAMPUS KITTENS 34
Phillips 0-6 3-4 3, McCoy 5-10 4-4 14, Ellis 1-9 5-7 7, T.Smith 4-6 0-4 8, Graves 0-2 0-0 0, Clemmons 1-2 0-0 2, Cribbs 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 11-35 12-19 34.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 3-9 (Warner 2-4, Hill 1-2, Winn 0-3), Conway Blue 0-11 (Ellis 0-4, McCoy 0-3, Phillips 0-3, T.Smith 0-3). Rebounds: Bryant 28 (Winn, Hill 8, Newborn 5), Conway Blue 24 (Ellis 7). Turnovers: Bryant 14, Conway Blue 14. Team fouls: Bryant 13, Conway Blue 18. Fouled out: T.Smith.