For more photos from this event by Kevin Nagle, go here
LITTLE ROCK — With all due respect to Charles Dickens, it was the best of times and the worst of times for the Bryant Hornets on Friday night.
At their best, they rolled up a lead of as much as 31-8 on the Little Rock Central Tigers, who were staring at an 0-3 start to the 7A-Central Conference season.
At the worst, the Hornets, after scoring a whopping 45 points in the first half, managed just 16 in the second half. After turning the ball over just three times in the first half, they turned it over 15 times in the second half.
The early lead held up until about midway through the fourth quarter when the Tigers poured in four 3-pointers in a flurry that allowed them to catch and pass the Hornets on their way to as unlikely a 69-61 win as you can imagine.
It was a gut-punch to the Hornets who suffered seven difficult turnovers with the game still in doubt. The first came after Central had taken a 59-56 lead. The next came with the Hornets trailing 59-57.
They tied it at 59 on a driving basket by Khalen Robinson but two free throws by K.D. Arnett put the Tigers back on top with 2:28 left. Another turnover sabotaged the Hornets’ first chance to answer. But Bryant got the ball back and Deron Canada hit two free throws to tie it at 61.
Arnett got a dunk when he got behind Bryant’s half-court trap then the Hornets turned it over again.
This time, the Tigers took advantage with a bucket from Donald Richardson that made it a two-possession game with 1:07 left.
Hornets head coach Mike Abrahamson took a timeout and drew up a play to get an open look at a 3 for Canada, who had already knocked down three of them. The play worked to perfection but, from the left corner, Canada’s shot rimmed out.
Arnett hit a free throw to make it 66-61 and the Hornets turned the ball over. Rodney Lambert stole it back for Bryant but, again, a turnover cost them.
A free throw by Jakaylyn Jackson upped the lead to 67-61 with :08.4 on the clock. And to add insult to injury, another turnover by Bryant led to a buzzer-beating dunk for Arnett to cap the win, leaving the Hornets stunned.
“In the first half, we shot the ball about as well as we can shoot it,” said Bryant head coach Mike Abrahamson. “We executed offensively about as well as we could. The first half was probably as good as we could do and about as bad as they can do.
“The only choice they had was to turn up the pressure and they did,” he noted. “Unfortunately, we had some panic and we had some turnovers and some missed layups. We got rushed and just kind of abandoned our plan. We got caught up in the environment, in the moment.”
As talented as the Hornets are, they’re still young and most of them are experiencing life on the road in the 7A-Central Conference for the first time. The Tigers got caught up in the ruckus and so did the Hornets (along with the officials; more than once the Hornets were trying for a layup and were knocked into the second row of seats behind the backboard with no call). Though it was closer at Fort Smith Northside a week ago, the Hornets struggled down the stretch in their league opener and lost that one too.
It hurt the Hornets at Central also that senior Sam Chumley, who had experienced the Central gym before, struggled with foul trouble after scoring 7 points in the first quarter and all 10 of his points in the first half. He eventually fouled out so the Hornets had to play on without his calming effect.
Indeed, the start was phenomenal for the Hornets. They connected on 9 of 13 shots including 5 of 8 from 3-point range in the first quarter as they built a 27-8 lead.
Chumley snapped a 2-2 tie with a basket inside off a feed from Lambert. Off a Central turnover, Lambert scored and was fouled, completing the three-point play. He followed up with another layup and foul, though he was unable to convert the free throw. Moments later, Robinson kicked out to Lambert who drained a 3 from the corner to make it 13-2.
Steve Smith ended Central’s drought and Caleb Dallimore hit a jumper to make it 13-6.
But the Tigers were called for a technical for not having Smith in the book. Robinson stepped to the line and converted both shots to start another Bryant barrage. In succession, Canada, Camren Hunter and Chumley bombed in 3’s. Along the way, sophomore post Catrell Wallace absorbed a charge.
Rajhon McIntosh hit a baseline jumper for the Tigers with :40 left in the opening period to make it 24-8 but Canada busted a 3 and it was 27-8 at the first break.
Chumley’s second triple started the second quarter. With 5:51 left, Robinson was fouled but lost a contact lens in the process and had to go to the locker room to get another. Lambert, on the bench with two fouls, checked back in and hit one of the two shots and the Hornets had their largest lead at 31-8.
The delay at that point may have allowed the Tigers to step back and gather themselves. They started shooting the ball better and they cut the margin to 31-16 before Abrahamson took a timeout.
The Hornets got it back in gear with a 15-footer by Robinson and the teams traded baskets the rest of the half. Canada beat the buzzer with a 3 and the Hornets held a 45-27 advantage at the intermission.
Central went for a full-court press in the second half, trapping at times and the Hornets’ scoring slowed down considerably. A free throw by Lambert and a layup by Canada was all they could get in the first six minutes of the half.
The lead was whittled down to 7 points before Wallace scored on an inbounds play. Jackson scored and Robinson drove for a basket with :14 left in the period. But Dillimore beat the buzzer from 15 feet out to make it 52-45.
And the Tigers kept cutting into the lead until they tied it with five minutes left then took the lead at the 4:43 mark. Bryant tied it twice but failed to score over the final 1:55.
The Hornets will try to bounce back at home on Tuesday when they host Fort Smith Southside.
TIGERS 69, HORNETS 61
Score by quarters
BRYANT 27 18 7 9 — 61
LR Central 8 19 20 23 — 69
HORNETS (10-6, 1-2) 61
Hunter 4-10 0-1 10, Robinson 4-11 5-5 13, Chumley 4-6 0-0 10, Lambert 3-4 4-8 11, Canada 4-6 3-4 14, Wallace 1-4 1-2 3. Totals 20-41 (49%) 13-20 (65%) 61.
TIGERS (5-9, 1-2)
Jackson 7-11 1-2 18, Arnett 3-6 3-4 9, Richardson 2-4 0-0 4, McIntosh 5-11 2-2 12, Sasser 1-3 0-0 2, Dudley 1-4 0-0 3, Dallimore 6-7 2-2 15, Smith 3-4 0-0 6. Totals 28-50 (56%) 8-10 (80%) 69.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 8-15 (Canada 3-5, Chumley 2-3, Hunter 2-2, Lambert 1-1, Robinson 0-4), LR Central 5-8 (Jackson 3-4, Dudley 1-3, Dallimore 1-1). Turnovers: Bryant 18, LR Central 14. Rebounds: Bryant 9-11 20 (Hunter 1-4, Wallace 4-0, Chumley 1-2 3, Canada 1-2 3, Robinson 0-2 2, Lambert 0-1 1, team 2-0 2), LR Central 11-14 25 (Arnett 3-4 7, McIntosh 5-2 7, Smith 1-4 5, Dallimore 1-2 3, Dudley 0-1 1, Jackson 1-0 1, team 0-1 1). Team fouls: Bryant 16, LR Central 17. Fouled out: Bryant, Chumley. Technical foul: LR Central bench, book.