By Rob Patrick
CONWAY — When any team or player with even a modicum of competitive fire gets[more] humbled by an opponent or embarrassed by their own performance, they usually can’t wait to jump back into the fray, to get an opportunity to wipe that bad taste out of their mouths.
On Friday, the Bryant Hornets found themselves in that situation. Humbled or embarrassed (or both) by the Jacksonville Red Devils to the tune of a 73-45 loss in the winners bracket semifinals of the Wampus Cat Invitational Tournament, the Hornets only had to chew on that for less than 24 hours before they returned to the court at Buzz Bolding Arena to play a familiar rival, the host Conway team.
And, in a corker of a game in which the Hornets faced one adverse situation after another, they forged a 69-67 win in overtime despite a 27-point performance by Conway’s star guard Tim Boyd who hit a lean-in jumper from 12 feet at the buzzer to force the overtime.
Bryant, now 6-1, led most of the extra period only to have Conway rally and, on a pair of free throws by Boyd with :27.7 on the clock, take a 67-66 lead.
Out of a timeout, however, the Hornets set up an off-the-ball screen to free up senior Zach Cambron who broke clean toward the basket, took a perfect feed and hit a layup to put his team back out top, 68-67 with :14 left.
“They executed it,” observed Hornets head coach Mike Abrahamson of that key play. “It was nothing new that I just drew up. We work on it all the time and they just executed it. We set a good screen, ran it crisp and got open at just the right time. The timing was great. And that’s something that we haven’t been doing, executing our sets. We haven’t seen that in games. To see it at that moment was tough.”
But the game wasn’t quite over. The Wampus Cats went back to Boyd but, thanks to solid defense by the Hornets, he had to force an 18-footer. The ball rimmed out and for a few precious seconds, the game hung in the balance as the carom ricocheted off one set of hands after another — three or four players — before C.J. Rainey collected it and was fouled with :01.7 to go.
However, Rainey only converted the second of his two shots, making it a 2-point game. That left the door ever-so-slightly ajar for Conway, which had seven 3’s in the game to that point. But Rainey surprised the Cats. Sneaking into the passing lane on the inbounds pass, he stole it to foil Conway’s hopes for a last-second miracle shot and completing Bryant’s most impressive victory of the season.
“Yesterday was like a kick in the gut to me,” said Abrahamson, referring to the loss to Jacksonville, “just because the second half and some of the first half just went against everything that we try to stand for. And I’m not talking about the score. I’m just talking about the way that we played.
“So, to come back today and respond — and not just respond and lead start to finish and say, ‘Oh, yeah, everything’s better,’ but to respond and respond and respond and respond and respond,” he asserted. “That’s the type of thing we talk about in this program. We play basketball and we coach basketball and we’re a team and all that. But it’s just about preparing them for life and you never know what’s going to go wrong in your life. What you can do is respond the right way and just keep coming and keep coming and keep coming and go straight through adversity. This was a microcosm of that whole big idea that we have and I’m proud of them. I hope it shows them that everything that we talk about, that we want to stand for, is right and it’s the right way to do things.”
How’s this for balance scoring:
Both K.J. Hill and Greyson Giles finished with 15 points for Bryant — Hill despite fouling out with 4:05 left in regulation — Rainey had 14, Tyler Simmons 13 and Cambron 8. Brian Reed pitched in with 4.
“I thought Brian Reed gave us great minutes,” Abrahamson said. “He only had 4 points but your value to the team is not in your point total. It’s really not even in your minutes played.”
It was also a bit of a breakout game for Simmons, a move-in from Mountain View, who had struggled in recent games. He came through in the clutch with 9 points including a 3 from 25 feet in the fourth quarter and overtime. He was more aggressive offensively when Conway came out to pressure his jumper. He contributed several assists and took his turn defending against Boyd along the way.
“You know, that kid’s good,” Abrahamson said of the junior guard. “He’s in a tough situation, moving down here. He’s played for his dad his whole life. Now he plays for me, and his dad’s still sitting there.”
His dad, Mike Simmons, is the Bryant freshman coach and joins Abrahamson and assistant Steve Wilson on the Hornets bench when there’s not a scheduling conflict.
“Then, also going from 3A to 7A adds some," the coach continued. "But he’s a really good player and I have all the confidence in the world in him. I think he played with more confidence. I think every game we’re seeing that to some extent. I think, offensively, he’s really good. I think defensively, the physicality — it’s night after night, there’s no breaks — has probably been the biggest adjustment but he’s adjusting to it. It’s good to see him have a good game.”
Conway actually led most of regulation. Boyd canned a trio of 3’s in the first quarter. His second had the Cats up 12-8. But Rainey drilled a 12-footer on a pull-up and Reed drove for a layup on a nice move to tie it with 1:38 left in the period. Hill followed with a pair of free throws that had Bryant ahead 14-12.
But that was Bryant’s last lead for a while. Boyd knocked down the third triple and, beating the buzzer, Darian Thompson scored inside off a drive and dish to give the Cats a 17-14 lead going into the second period.
Bryant was still within 22-19 after a 3 by Rainey going into the final five minutes of the half but Conway put together a 9-2 run that produced the first double-digit lead, 31-21, of the game. Simmons, however, nailed a 3 in the closing seconds to make it a 7-point game at the break.
It was 36-26 with under six minutes left in the third quarter when Hill went on a spree. He drove for a basket and, after a steal by Simmons, took a feed for another layup. A pair of Conway misses followed and Hill attacked the rim again for a layup that trimmed the lead to 36-32.
But the sophomore sensation picked up his third foul at that point. Boyd fed Justin Leon for a short jumper then freshman Adrian Moore sliced to the hoop for a layup, moving Abrahamson to call timeout, hoping to fend off a game-breaking Conway surge.
It worked as the Hornets countered. Simmons found Giles cutting toward the basket, resulting in a layup and, after a Conway miss, Giles drove and wound up with a three-point play that had Bryant within 40-37.
And when Cambron took a charge, the Hornets had a chance to get closer or tie but they turned it over and Boyd made them pay.
Conway maintained and took the game to the fourth quarter with a 47-41 advantage. Boyd made a steal and layup to start the final period, making it an 8-point game but that’s when Simmons stepped forward with a 3. Conway’s dominic Taylor converted a pair of free throws but Simmons countered with his long-range bomb.
The Hornets refused to go away. They pulled within 53-52 with 3:41 left to play just moments after Hill fouled out. When Taylor missed the front end of a one-and-one, Reed grabbed an offensive rebound and scored to put the Hornets ahead for just the second time in the game with 3:04 to go.
“What I liked was when K.J. fouled out, there was no reaction,” Abrahamson mentioned. “We just kept going. K.J. was upset. But it wasn’t like yesterday when every little thing that went wrong, it was like the end of the world. Today, we just kept going.”
Conway’s Sean Criswell hit a shot inside to put his team back up but Simmons, off a drive and spin, canned a short jumper with 2:35 to go. In turn, Boyd misfired and the Hornets started to spread the floor and make Conway chase.
Rainey was fouled with 1:26 to go and converted twice. Moore, however, drove for a basket in response.
On two trips after that, however, the Hornets hit just two free throws out of a potential four. Cambron appeared the have taken a charge on Boyd but didn’t get the call. Boyd hit a free throw to cut the lead to 1. Giles hit a free throw with :13.5 showing only to have Boyd hit the game-tying bucket at the buzzer to send it to overtime.
“Boyd was unstoppable,” asserted Abrahamson. “We had no answer for him — to his credit. He’s tough. (Moore), the freshman, is so athletic and plays above the rim, and (Leon) plays above the rim.”
Bryant re-established the upper hand to start the extra period and actually built its largest lead of the game, 66-60. Simmons fed Giles for a bucket then added a pair of free throws. Cambron’s drive from the high post resulted in a layup and the 6-point lead with 1:58 to go.
Scrambling, Conway rallied. Leon scored inside, Moore hit a free throw and, with 1:08 to go, Boyd’s running jumper had the lead back to 1, 66-65.
With :48.2 to go, Bryant had a chance at the line to extend the margin but both shots refused to fall. That led to Boyd’s free throws with :27.7 left that put Conway on top, 67-66, setting up the dramatic finish.
“That was a tough match-up for us,” Abrahamson stated. “They’re on the home floor in their tournament and they lost a tough one last night (in overtime to Pine Bluff). It was a hard-fought battle. I thought they played well. I thought our kids just made more plays.”
The Hornets host Russellville in their next outing on Tuesday.
HORNETS 69, WAMPUS CATS 67, OT
Score by quarters
BRYANT 14 10 17 19 9 — 69
Conway 17 14 16 13 7 — 67
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Rainey 5-9 3-4 2-6 8 0 14
Hill 4-11 7-8 0-0 0 5 15
Simmons 4-12 2-2 0-4 4 3 13
Giles 5-7 5-9 0-3 3 3 15
Cambron 4-6 0-0 1-2 3 3 8
Rayburn 0-0 0-0 0-1 1 0 0
Reed 2-3 0-2 2-3 5 2 4
Davis 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Team 3-2 5
Totals 24-49 17-25 8-21 29 16 69
WAMPUS CATS 67
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Boyd 10-19 3-4 0-5 5 3 27
Taylor 2-5 4-5 0-5 5 3 10
Leon 4-7 0-0 5-5 10 2 8
Criswell 3-6 0-0 1-0 1 1 6
Moore 3-7 1-2 0-5 5 4 7
King 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Thompson 1-2 0-0 1-1 2 2 2
Burton 1-3 2-2 3-0 3 4 4
Walder 1-6 0-1 1-0 1 2 3
Ellis 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Grubbs 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 0
Team 0-1 1
Totals 25-56 10-14 11-22 33 22 67
Three-point field goals: Bryant 4-10 (Simmons 3-8, Rainey 1-2) Conway 7-16 (Boyd 4-9, Taylor 2-2, Walder 1-3, Moore 0-1, Burton 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 12, Conway 16.