SPRINGDALE — It is really difficult to describe just how far the Bryant Hornets came from the start of the 2014-15 basketball season to the end.
You could mention that, in their second game of the season, they suffered a 52-38 road loss to the Rogers Heritage War Eagles, part of an 0-3 start. And, in a rematch on Friday night in the Class 7A State Tournament at Springdale Har-Ber, the Hornets led the War Eagles in the fourth quarter, were tied with 3:11 left and within 2 with 30 seconds to go.
Though Heritage escaped with a 52-48 winn — a heartbreaking loss for the Hornets — the narrowing of the scoring gap doesn’t even do it justice.
Despite that 0-3 start, the Hornets wound up 14-13 and, if not for late-game heroics by the War Eagles’ star guard Lexus Hobbs, it might’ve been a different outcome. Hobbs scored 7 of his game-high 23 points in the final 2:15 including a pair of wild how-did-that-go-in shots.
It helped too that Rogers Heritage shot 27 free throws and Bryant only 8. Neither team burned up the nets from the line — Heritage made 16 (a 57 percent clip), Bryant made 2 (25 percent) — but as Bryant coach Mike Abrahamson said, the sheer volume, was huge.
“A long way,” acknowledged Abrahamson who played nine players, six of which were sophomores compared to the Rogers team’s four seniors and four juniors. “The coach for Heritage, Tom Olsen, said, ‘Coach, that’s not the same team that I saw back in November. They’re really a lot better.’
“I heard a lot of that this year,” the Bryant coach added. “And I think a world of our team. We started off 0-3. Boy, I didn’t know where the wins were going to come from or if they were going to come at all. To end up with a winning record, winning 14 games and making the State tournament, beating teams like Conway twice, Russellville twice and Catholic twice. That stuff was really good. We really competed in our conference and finished third. I’m really proud of our team and, you know, if we’ll all stick together, if we can maybe keep everybody, keep the vultures away — boy, we have a bright future.”
The game was the highlight of the long-delayed first day of the tournament. Due to the threat of winter weather, the teams from outside of northwest Arkansas traveled to Springdale on Tuesday anticipating a Wednesday start. The winter weather came and the start fo the tournament was delayed one day after another. While the northwest Arkansas teams were sleeping in their own beds, enjoying their normal routines, the teams from outside of the area were hotel-bound much of the time.
It all appeared to take its toll as West Memphis, then Cabot got pounded in their first-round games on Friday. But Bryant, playing the last game, dug down and nearly pulled off the victory.
“It was a long week,” acknowledged Abrahamson. “We got up here Tuesday night and we finally got to the play the game on Friday. Our kids handled the week very well, as good as they could. We were very adaptable and adjusted when we were postponed and went with the flow. We did get into a gym every day.”
The routine became workout, lunch then study hall.
“We just did the best that we could and our kids were awesome about it,” the coach continued. “They never got too stir crazy and we didn’t have any problems. I can’t say enough. With only one senior, they really were mature this week and did a good job. I was proud of how they handled the situation.
“And I was proud of how hard they played tonight, for sure,” he emphasized. “We didn’t play great but we played really, really hard.
“The free throws are the story,” Abrahamson related. “They didn’t shoot a great percentage but the volume. I mean, they outscored us by 14 points at the free-throw line and we lose the game by 4. That’s tough. And that’s been a problem for us all year long. We’re just going to continue to work at it. But even at the end, we missed the front end of a one-and-one and they go down and make their’s. So they made the plays. We didn’t make the plays.”
Bryant’s Romen Martin, who had a frustrating game much of the night, came back despite four fouls and scored all 8 of his points down the stretch. His first 3 — a deep ringer — tied the game 41-41. Heritage, spurred by Hobbs, surged to a 46-41 advantage by the 1:10 mark. Martin ended a brief dry spell for the Hornets with a driving jumper and, after a drive by Hobbs, he knocked down his second triple of the quarter to get the Horents within 48-46 with :34 left.
After a Bryant timeout, the War Eagles’ senior Connor Hirsh, who had 15 points, went to the line at the :27.9 mark. Up to that point, Hirsh had converted just 3 of 8 at the line, so it appeared to be the right guy to foul. But he sank both shots to make it a two-possession game.
Bryant senior Wesley Peters, who had drilled a pair of clutch 3’s, was fouled with :18 to go, but the front end of the one-and-one refused to fall. With :11.9 left, Hobbs iced the game with two free throws. Kevin Hunt scored Bryant’s last 2 points in the final seconds.
Hunt finished with 16 points. Lowell Washington, a sophomore, added 11 to go with a team-high 13 rebounds.
“Our kids played so hard, they deserved to win but so did Heritage,” Abrahamson said. “They really played a great game.
“Hobbs is just so athletic and so hard to guard,” he noted. “We tried to prepare for him and plan for him and he just gets in there anyway. He made some tough shots around the rim, falling out of bounds. He banked in a 3 from the corner. Golly, he was having a great night. He made his free throws at the end. He’s just a tough match-up for us. You’ve got to give him credit.”
Still, the Hornets hit more field goals (20) than Heritage (16), hit more 3’s (6 to 4) and out-rebounded the War Eagles, 31-23. Though the Hornets had nine turnovers in the first half, they suffered just two in the second.
“We played well,” Abrahamson stated. “We just put them on the line too much.”
Heritage led briefly by as much as 7. Bryant’s largest lead was 4. Hunt scored 10 points in the first quarter including a pair of 3’s, the first of which had his team up 7-4. But a 4-point play by Hobbs started the seesaw.
Washington scored a short drive and Hobbs answered. A three-point play by Washington put the Hornets back ahead. Heritage suffered turnovers on two trips and, after the second, Hunt made them pay with a 3 from the corner that made it 14-10 going into the second period.
Hobbs sparked a 7-0 surge that had the War Eagles up by 3 but Bryant’s sophomore point guard Calvin Allen drove the baseline, resulting a three-point play to tie it.
The Hornets just couldn’t get on top and Heritage surged to a 26-19 lead with 2:36 left. With Hunt and Martin on the bench in foul trouble, Allen fed Washington for a basket then assisted on a 3 by Peters that cut the lead to 26-24 at the half.
The game was tied at 26, 28, 30 and 33 in the third quarter. Washington, off a feed from Peters, scored in the final seconds of the period and the Hornets had a 35-33 lead going into the final eight minutes.
A free throw by Hirsh and a drive by Hobbs had Heritage back up but Hunt whipped a pass inside to Allen, cutting to the hoop. He scored and was fouled. Though he couldn’t get the free throw to go, Bryant was back on top.
Hirsh countered with 6:30 to go and the Hornets never led again. But they refused to go away.
The War Eagles’ Marcus Breedlove chose that moment to score his only basket of the night, a 3, making it 41-37. Abrahamsone called a timeout and his team responded. Though them missed some opportunities over the next 2:46, Washington’s free throw and Martin’s triple had them back even at 41.
A two-minute drought followed, however, and Heritage pushed out to a 5-point lead and just held on.
The Hornets will stay one more night in their hotel and root on the Lady Hornets on Saturday as they take on Bentonville at 1 p.m. Then they’ll sleep in their own beds for the first time in five days.
WAR EAGLES 52, HORNETS 48
Score by quarters
Heritage 10 16 9 19 — 52
BRYANT 14 10 11 13 — 48
WAR EAGLES (15-12) 52
Olsen 1-5 0-0 2, Hobbs 7-12 7-11 23, Breedlove 1-2 2-4 5, Jensen 1-5 2-2 4, Hirsh 5-8 5-10 15, Belnap 0-0 0-0 0, Coover 1-2 0-0 3, Macy 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-34 16-27 52.
HORNETS (14-13) 48
C.Allen 2-6 1-2 5, Peters 2-5 0-1 6, Lewis 1-1 0-2 2, Martin 3-12 0-0 8, Washington 5-7 1-3 11, Hunt 7-12 0-0 16, Moody 0-1 0-0 0, Sahr 0-0 0-0 0, R.Allen 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 20-47 2-8 48.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 6-20 (Martin 2-9, Hunt 2-5, Peters 2-4, C.Allen 0-1, R.Allen 0-1), Rogers Heritage 4-12 (Hobbs 2-5, Breedlove 1-2, Coover 1-1, Olsen 0-3, Jensen 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 11, Rogers Heritage 6. Rebounds: Bryant 14-17 31 (Washington 6-7 13, Hunt 2-3 5, C.Allen 3-1 4, Lewis 1-1 2, Moody 0-2 2, R.Allen 2-0 2, Peters 0-1 1, Martin 0-1 1, team 0-1 1), Rogers Heritage 5-18 23 (Hirsh 2-4 6, Hobbs 1-4 5, Jensen 0-4 4, Breedlove 0-3 3, Coover 0-2 2, team 2-1 3). Team fouls: Bryant 19, Rogers Heritage 12.