By Rob Patrick
Photos by Rick Nation and Kevin Nagle
Sophomore sensation K.J. Hill erupted for 26 points while Tyler Simmons and C.J. Rainey combined[more] for 26 more as the Bryant Hornets surprised the Pine Bluff Zebras, 65-51 at the Hornets Nest Friday night.
The Zebras came into the game tied for second place behind the unbeaten Benton Panthers going into the second half of the 7A/6A-South Conference slate. Their 5-2 league record included a 64-51 win over Bryant on Jan. 8.
But the Hornets are in a far different place than they were on Jan. 8. Then, they were in the midst of a four-game losing streak that was complicated by some off-the-court adversity. Now, with the win on Friday, they’ve won four out of their last five with the lone loss by just 4 points in an intense set-to at Benton last Tuesday.
That loss didn’t seem to slow the Hornets down as they built as much as a 21-point lead on the Zebras.
“Everthing’s just going better right now,” said Bryant head coach Mike Abrahamson. “We’ve committed to what we’re doing on defense. Everybody’s bought into it. We’re committed and bought into blocking out. Offensively, things are flowing.
“In the game of basketball, a lot of times one thing leads to another,” he commented, “and, if you play good defense and make their first shot tough, then you block out and you get the rebound, go down and execute of offense, you get a lead and one team starts to rush it, panic a little bit, take some questionable shots. They do some things on defense they don’t want to do. One thing will just kind of lead to another. Tonight that worked out for us.”
Bryant shot 52 percent from the field (19 of 37). The Hornets handled Pine Bluff’s aggressive man-to-man and zone trapping defenses so well they only turned the ball over 11 times and wound up shooting 23 of 32 at the free-throw line, mostly because they attacked the basket.
Pine Bluff, meanwhile, working against Bryant’s match-up zone, faltered after a hot start, finishing 21 of 60 (35 percent) from the field while going 3 of 6 at the line.
“That’s something that we look at all the time, the differential, how many we made and how many they shot,” Abrahamson mentioned. “That was good.”
Pine Bluff’s Darien Kee hit a pair of 3-points to give the Z’s a 6-0 lead off the bat but, with free throws by Zach Cambron, a layup by Brian Reed and a basket inside by Cambron, the Hornets tied it up and the first half was close the rest of the way.
The game was tied 14-14 at the end of the first quarter. Pine Bluff had an 18-15 lead after consecutive baskets by Rickey Clement. After a timeout to save a possession on a loose ball following a steal by Simmons, the Hornets’ junior drained back-to-back 3’s to put the Hornets on top.
Following his own miss, Simmons got to the line and converted once. Clement scored again but two free throws by Cambron had Bryant up 24-20 with 2:53 left in the half.
Tyrone Payne and Hill traded hoops then Clement drained a 3. But when Hill grabbed an offensive rebound and scored, Bryant held a 28-25 lead at the half.
LaDarius Skelton’s stickback to open the third quarter had the Zebras within a point but they wouldn’t get that close to the lead the rest of the game.
Hill’s driving flip found the mark and, after Clement missed a 3-point try, Hill gunned one in. He followed up with a steal and a free throw to make it 34-27.
Payne scored inside and the Zebras had a chance to trim the margin some more but Greyson Giles teamed up with Simmons to force a turnover that Hill cashed in with a jumper in the lane off a nice feed from Rainey who had collected an offensive rebound.
Kee went to the glass to score before another Bryant burst. Strodney Davis hit a free throw and, after a Giles theft, Rainey hit a layup as Giles picked up an assist. Kee missed and Hill flew down the court for a layup giving the Hornets their first double-digit lead, 41-31.
Pine Bluff’s John Tate, grabbing one of his team’s 19 offensive rebounds, cut into the margin but, with :34 left in the third quarter, Simmons splashed a triple. Rainey made it 46-33 going into the fourth quarter by canning a pair of charity tosses with :03.5 showing.
Hill drove for a basket and Luke Rayburn drew a charge on a drive by Clement. Hill eventually added another layup to increase the margin to 50-33.
Kee converted a pair of free throws (off yet another offensive rebound) but Rainey returned the favor and Simmons drove for a bucket to push the lead to 19 with 4:18 to go.
A tip-in by Payne interrupted the Bryant onslaught but Hill dropped in two free throws and Simmons hit a layup off a nice feed from Reed. With 3:07 to go, the Hornets had the Zebras down 58-37.
Pine Bluff stayed after it and whittled the lead to 12. But Rainey fed Giles for a layup then that duo as well as Simmons knocked down free throws to keep the Zebras at bay.
“They hit some shots early which hurt us but then maybe in the end it helped us because they kept shooting them and we did a better job of getting out to them,” Abrahamson observed. “We made a nice adjustment, when they were trying to get it inside a little bit more, to take that away. Our players did a better job in the second half of identifying the shooters. We didn’t have that same urgency at the beginning of the game to get out there. They did a good job of listening to the adjustments and putting it out on the floor, executing them.”
Now 15-8 overall and 4-5 in league play, the Hornets will try to get a win back against another team they lost to in the first go-round when they host the J.A. Fair War Eagles of Little Rock on Tuesday, Feb. 5.
HORNETS 65, ZEBRAS 51
Score by quarters
Pine Bluff 14 11 8 18 — 51
BRYANT 14 14 18 19 — 65
ZEBRAS (9-8, 5-3) 51
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Clement 6-16 1-2 2-1 3 2 15
Kee 6-12 2-2 4-1 5 5 16
Payne 5-14 0-0 5-2 7 4 10
Skelton 1-5 0-2 2-0 2 1 2
Tate 1-2 0-0 1-1 2 3 2
Jones 0-2 0-0 1-0 1 1 0
Rice 0-4 0-0 0-1 1 4 0
Thomas 2-5 0-0 0-1 1 3 6
Team 4-4 8
Totals 21-60 3-6 19-11 30 23 51
HORNETS (14-8, 4-5) 65
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Hill 9-12 7-8 1-2 3 2 26
McKissock0-0 0-0 0-0 0 2 0
Simmons 5-10 3-4 3-5 8 0 16
Reed 1-3 0-0 2-4 6 4 2
Cambron 1-2 4-4 0-3 3 2 6
Rainey 2-6 6-6 1-3 4 0 10
Rayburn 0-0 0-2 0-1 1 0 0
Giles 1-3 2-6 1-3 4 3 4
Davis 0-1 1-2 0-0 0 0 1
Team 1-1 2
Totals 19-37 23-32 9-22 31 13 65
Three-point field goals: Pine Bluff 6-18 (Clement 2-8, Kee 2-4, Thomas 2-4, Rice 0-2), Bryant 4-14 (Simmons 3-7, Hill 1-2, Rainey 0-2, Cambron 0-1, Giles 0-1, Rayburn 0-1). Turnovers: Pine Bluff 10, Bryant 11. Technical fouls: Pine Bluff, Payne; Bryant, Cambron.