For more photos of this event by Rick Nation, go here; Photos also by Andrew Schroeder
The Bryant Hornets came into the week ranked number two in the State by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. But, after an impressive 68-41 thumping of the Fort Smith Northside Grizzlies, coupled with a Little Rock Central’s 80-73 win over previously unbeaten and top-ranked North Little Rock, the Hornets may move to the top in next Sunday’s rankings.
The victory improved the Hornets to 9-0 on the season. It was the 6A-Central Conference opener for all the league teams on Tuesday.
The Hornets, who also have wins over No. 3 Marion and No. 10 Maumelle, closed out the first quarter against Northside with a 9-1 run then erupted for 27 points in the second quarter to take a commanding 43-24 lead at the half.
Before the end of the third quarter, Bryant built as much as a 34-point lead against a Grizzlies team that included 6’9” senior Tamuary Releford, 6’7” senior Jordan Wright, and 6’5” Denarion Whitmore.
As might be expected from those numbers, Northside outrebounded the Hornets but only 38-33 while Bryant forced 19 turnovers while committing just 10. In addition, the Griz shot just 30 percent from the field (15 of 50).
Camren Hunter, who scored Bryant’s first 9 points of the game, finished with 16 to go with eight rebounds and five assists. Kade Ruffner scored 10 and, off the bench, Gabe George added 9. Eleven different Hornets (out of 15 that got into the game) contributed to the scoring.
The Hornets knocked down 10 3-pointers and converted 14 of 21 free throws.
But, it was their defense, as so often is the case, that stood out.
“I felt like we made it difficult on (Northside) to get what they wanted,” said Hornets head coach Mike Abrahamson. “They’re so good at getting the ball into the post and working for position in the post. Of course, they’ve got some good bigs. It was a difficult challenge, but I thought our guys really did well.”
The Grizzlies’ last lead of the game was 4-2.
“I felt like the first two possessions of the game, we didn’t (play good defense),” said the coach. “We weren’t in a stance and were letting them get to the basket. I said, ‘What’s going on here?’ Then, they turned it on, and we had a good defensive performance.”
Northside went from the 4:31 mark of the first quarter to the 6:30 mark of the second without a field goal while the Hornets opened up a double-digit lead.
Hunter finished his 9-point opening surge with a basket as he was fouled. In turn, the Hornets forced Northside to turn the ball over with a shot-clock violation as the Grizzlies were unable to get a shot to the iron within the 35 seconds on the clock.
“We try to prepare for what we know is coming every game,” said Abrahamson of his defense. “When they see it, they say, ‘This is what we prepared for’ and we can settle into what we know we need to do.
“I just felt like they gained a lot of confidence after they got a couple of stops,” he said of his team. “They were making it tough on (Northside) to get it inside. The confidence kind of grew and the communication got better. We moved around a little bit faster and just continued to be disruptive.”
An offensive-rebound basket by Ruffner as he was fouled led to a three-point play. Releford hit a free throw for Northside but George drained a trey off a kickout from Hunter. Landyn Newburn added a free throw to make it 16-7 going into the second period.
“We trust each other,” said Abrahamson. “Cam, as great of a player as he is, he’s a great teammate first. He has trust in his teammates. He wants and expects those guys to take those shots because he believes that they’ll make them. When you can make shots, boy, that helps out a lot of stuff. It makes everything look better.”
The Hornets were 8 of 12 from the field in the second quarter including 4 of 6 from 3-point range and 7 of 8 from the free throw line.
The lead was just 6 after a three-point play by Releford at the 4:22 mark. But George ran the bell on another triple, Hunter made a steal and a bucket then fed George for another 3 to extend the margin to 32-18.
It was 34-23 at the 2:10 mark after Jacob Joe hit a 3 but the Griz added just one free throw the rest of the half. As that was happening, Gavin Brunson hit the offensive glass for a bucket, Aiden Adams drilled a 3 off a Hunter steal then Cory Nichols added two free throws to set the halftime margin.
“You don’t really expect that,” Abrahamson acknowledged. “But our guys played well. You take it when you can get it. You take them one at a time and you never know with this Covid what’s going to happen next. We got a good game in tonight so I’m happy for the guys to be able to play and get out there and compete.
“Northside’s a good team,” he asserted. “They were missing some guards tonight, about three guards that didn’t make the trip. A couple of their bigs, really, they just got them back. When they have all their pieces, they’re going to be a really good team and it’s going to be a challenge when we have to go to Fort Smith in a few weeks.”
Bryant started the second half like they’d played the second quarter. Adams and Ruffner bombed away from long range and it was 49-24.
Whitmore ended Northside’s drought with a basket inside but Ruffner hit the offensive glass for an answering bucket.
It was 52-29 with 3:44 left in the third quarter. That’s when the Hornets put on the closing push, starting with a dunk by Hunter. Jaden Montgomery made a steal and a layup before feeding Darren Wallace for a layup. Bryant had doubled up the Grizzlies, 58-29.
Reserves closed out the game for the Hornets. Freshman Drake Fowler scored and was fouled for his first varsity points then Wallace popped a 3 to create the largest lead of the night, 63-29.
The Hornets return to conference action on the road Friday. They’ll visit the Catholic Rockets in Little Rock.
HORNETS 68, GRIZZLIES 41
Score by quarters
FS Northside 7 17 8 9 — 41
BRYANT 16 27 20 5 — 68
GRIZZLIES (5-4, 0-1) 41
Joe 1-6 0-2 3, Hardwick 1-2 0-0 3, Savoy 2-7 0-0 4, Whitmore 3-12 1-3 7, Wright 0-5 1-2 1, Releford 6-13 3-4 15, Catsavis 2-5 0-0 6, Rose 0-0 2-2 2, Smith 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 15-50 (30%) 7-13 (54%) 41.
HORNETS (9-0, 1-0) 68
Nichols 1-4 3-4 6, Ruffner 3-7 3-3 10, Hunter 6-10 2-3 16, Adams 2-3 0-0 6, Diggins 1-5 3-6 5, Brunson 1-3 0-0 2, Schroeder 0-4 0-0 0, J.Montgomery 2-2 0-0 4, Newburn 0-2 1-2 1, George 3-6 0-0 9, Wallace 2-2 0-0 5, Fowler 1-3 2-3 4, B.Montgomery 0-0 0-0 0, Gannaway 0-0 0-0 0, Lindsey 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-51 (43%) 14-21 (67%) 68.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 10-24 (George 3-6, Adams 2-3, Hunter 2-2, Ruffner 1-5, Nichols 1-1, Wallace 1-1, Schroeder 0-3, Fowler 0-2, Brunson 0-1), FS Northside 4-10 (Catsavis 2-4, Joe 1-4, Hardwick 1-2). Turnovers: Bryant 10, FS Northside 19. Rebounds: Bryant 11-22 33 (Hunter 3-5 8, Ruffner 2-4 6, Adams 0-3 3, Diggins 1-2 3, Brunson 1-2 3, Fowler 1-2 3, Wallace 1-1 2, George 1-1 2, Nichols 0-1 1, Newburn 0-1 1, team 1-0 1), FS Northside 17-21 38 (Wright 3-5 8, Catsavis 0-7 7, Releford 4-2 6, Hardwick 0-5 5, Whitmore 3-1 4, Joe 3-1 4, Savoy 3-0 3, team 1-0 1). Team fouls: Bryant 14, FS Northside 17. Fouled out: FS Northside, Releford. Technical foul: Bryant, book.