FORT SMITH — The Fort Smith Northside Grizzlies are the defending Class 7A State champion. And it looks like they’ve got a good shot at contending for another title.
The main cog for them is Arkansas Razorback-signee Isaiah Joe, who last year, pumped in nine 3’s against the Bryant Hornets, scoring over 30 points in a win for the Griz against a veteran Hornets squad.
A younger but talented Bryant team returned to Fort Smith’s Gayle Kaundart Grizzly Arena on Friday night to open 7A-Central Conference play and limited Joe to just 11 points through three quarters. And the Hornets were right with the Bears, trailing just 50-44 after two free throws by Rodney Lambert with :11.4 left in the third quarter.
Hoping to save time by rolling in the inbounds pass, Joe’s roll was too slow and Bryant’s freshman point guard Camren Hunter dashed in and, with a headlong dive, stole the ball and called a timeout with 10.6 to go.
Hornets’ coach Mike Abrahamson drew up a last shot scenario and sophomore Khalen Robinson got an open look at a 3. But it refused to fall.
To open the fourth quarter, the Hornets’ Deron Canada made a steal that led to a 3-point look from the corner. But it too rimmed out.
Those shots could’ve tied the game. Instead, Joe drained a long 3 and, moments later, another Grizzlies senior Kentrell Jacobs knocked down his fourth trey of the game.
Suddenly, the 6-point margin became a 12-point lead and the Hornets could never quite get back in step. Northside’s lead was never less than 10 after that on the way to a 65-51 victory.
“We have not seen, or we haven’t been able to simulate in practice, the length that they have coupled with the athleticism,” stated Abrahamson. “We played Parkview and they’re long but they don’t play like Northside, at least not when we played them. They mix it up. They don’t let you do anything, really, offensively. You’ve just got to make plays.”
Joe finished with 18 points. Jacobs added 16, Javion Releford 12 and 6-9 sophomore Jaylin Williams 8 including the first 6 points of the second half for the Griz.
Canada led Bryant with 14 but was just 2 of 7 on 3’s. Lambert and Robinson added 12 apiece with Sam Chumley pcking up 6 and Hunter 5.
“We just hung in there, hung in there, hung in there and we broke,” Abrahamson related. “Credit to them because I’m sure that’s what they’re trying to do. They’re good. And other guys stepped up. I thought we did a decent job on Mr. Joe. But, when you give up an offensive rebound and we lose him or they kick it to him or, he’s so long, he’s getting a steal and going for a layup . . .
“They just wear on you in their style of play,” he continued. “We hung in there about as long as we could tonight. Hopefully, the experience of tonight will make us better and prepare us for later in the year. I thought Northside played great. They don’t seem to be missing a beat.”
The Grizzlies improved to 10-5 on the season. Bryant dropped to 9-6. Northside comes to Bryant on Feb. 2.
“I’m proud of our guys’ effort,” Abrahamson said. “We gave up 65 points and that really hurts a guy like me. That’s a lot of points to me. But you have to give credit to Northside. They’re whole team stepped up. They were great defensively.”
As for the learning process, the coach said, “Just the experience of playing against their length. In some ways, I thought we handled the pressure well, better than we have in the past against teams like Hall. We just have not seen that length. When our guys are going to pass, they don’t know but their guys cover so much ground so quick. We have to learn to improve our angles. We have to learn to pass-fake more. We have to learn to not pick our dribble up when we get trapped.
“Those are things we go over but, until you get in a game environment, it doesn’t tend to sink in,” he concluded. “It’s nothing new. It’s just the experience of seeing it in a game. Now, we have to learn from it, grow from it and, if we don’t, shame on us. Hopefully, we will.”
The Hornets host Little Rock Catholic on Tuesday. The Rockets were a surprise winner over Cabot, which came in 12-2, on Friday and always play Bryant tough. Northside hosts Little Rock Central.
Bryant led 4-2 early but then, spurred by Joe’s first 3 and two of them by Jacobs, the Grizzlies put together a 12-0 run to build a 10-point margin.
It was 16-6 with 3:21 left in the opening period when Canada drove for a basket and Robinson made a steal and a layup. Williams scored off the offensive glass to make it 18-10 before Canada and Chumley each hit 3’s in the final stretch and the Hornets were down just 18-16 at the break.
Releford banked in a 3 to start the second period. But Canada followed his own miss and, after a layup by Jacobs, Canada scored off the offensive glass and Robinson knocked down a trey to tie it at 23.
But Northside surged to a 32-24 lead going into the final minute of the half. Robinson drained another triple and, after Joe hit a driving jumper, Chumley beat the buzzer with a triple that made it 34-30 at intermission.
Spurred by Williams, the Grizzlies built a 46-35 lead. An offensive rebound basket by Catrell Wallace was countered by a driving jumper by Joe. He was fouled but missed the free throw, making it 48-37.
But Canada hit a 3 then Lambert took a charge on defense. The Hornets, whoever turned the ball over and Anthony Travis Jr., got loose for a dunk and a 50-40 lead.
Canada hit a layup then Lambert added two free throws to make it 50-44, setting up the game-turning series of events.
GRIZZLIES 65, HORNETS 51
Score by quarters
BRYANT 16 14 14 7 — 51
FS Northside 18 16 16 15 — 65
HORNETS (9-5, 0-1) 51
Hunter 2-4 0-0 5, Robinson 5-11 0-2 12, Chumley 2-7 0-0 6, Lambert 3-5 5-8 12, Canada 6-15 0-0 14, Wallace 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 18-43 (42%) 5-10 (50%) 51.
GRIZZLIES (10-5, 1-0) 65
Releford 4-6 3-4 12, Joe 6-10 4-5 18, Travis Jr. 3-9 0-2 6, Jacobs 6-8 0-0 16, Williams 4-5 0-0 8, Gordon 0-0 0-0 0, McKinley 1-1 0-0 2, Norwood 0-1 0-0 0, Keller 0-0 0-0 0, Watson 1-1 0-0 3, Perkins 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-41 (61%) 7-11 (64%) 65.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 8-19 (Canada 2-7, Chumley 2-5, Robinson 2-4, Hunter 1-2, Lambert 1-1), FS Northside 8-16 (Jacobs 4-5, Joe 2-4, Releford 1-3, Watson 1-1, Travis Jr. 2, Norwood 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 16, FS Northside 14. Rebounds: Bryant 9-14 23 (Robinson 3-5 8, Canada 2-3 5, Chumley 1-4 5, Lambert 0-2 2, Wallace 2-0 2, Hunter 1-0 1), FS Northside 6-16 22 (Williams 2-4 6, Joe 2-2 4, Jacobs 0-4 4, Releford 1-1 2, Travis Jr. 0-2 2, Gordon 0-2 2, team 1-1 2). Team fouls: Bryant 13, FS Northside 9.