CONWAY — Bryant Hornets head basketball coach Mike Abrahamson has said repeatedly over his team’s first four games of the 2013-14 season, “We are who we are and we have to stick to that.”
But there was a moment late in the first quarter of the Hornets’ game against the Jacksonville Red Devils on Saturday at the Bank of the Ozarks John Stanton Wampus Cat Invitational Tournament that Abrahamson called a timeout and made it a point of reminding his players of that — about what they worked so hard on in practice and what they needed to get back to.
The Hornets had built a 12-6 lead over the first four minutes of the quarter but Jacksonville had just completed a 14-2 run to gain the upper hand, 20-14.
It was an uphill climb the rest of the way. Though they were able to rally a couple of times and even pull ahead briefly, they just couldn’t overtake the Red Devils, who held on for a 65-63 victory.
About a minute into the fourth quarter, Jacksonville had built a 52-39 lead punctuated by Tedric Wolfe’s dunk. Sparked by sophomore Kevin Hunt, who followed his own miss and got fouled at the 6:30 mark then hit a free throw, the Hornets began their second comeback. Hunt scored inside at 6:02 and, after Jacksonville’s Demarion Freeman hit a short jumper, Grayson Giles splashed a 3 and the lead was down under double-digits at the 4:33 mark.
Cedarrian Crosby took a charge as Jacksonville’s Devin Campbell drove the lane and, after a Red Devils timeout, Hunt canned a 12-footer. He followed up with a steal but turned the ball back over trying to get through the Jacksonville press.
The Red Devils were unable to take advantage and, with 2:50 to go, C.J. Rainey got to the line and knocked down a pair of free throws to make it 54-49. Fired up, the Hornets forced another Jacksonville turnover and freshman Romen Martin cashed in with a 3-pointer that had the margin at 2, 54-52, with 2:47 to go.
Alfred Graydon hit a free throw for the Devils but, at the other end, Rainey drove and kicked out to Martin in the corner. When he drained his fourth triple of the game, Bryant was within one, 56-55 with 1:59 to go.
Tyree Appleby slowed the momentum with a pair of free throws but the Hornets were still within a 3-pointer of tying it. Hunt got a look but it refused to go in.
Bryant got another chance when Sergio Berkley missed two free throws but the lid on the basket denied Rainey twice and Giles as well with the Hornets attacking the glass against the taller Red Devils — unofficially, Bryant had 16 offensive rebounds and actually finished with a 33-29 advantage on the boards.
With :30.1 to go, Campbell made it a two-possession game again by converting a pair of free throws and the Hornets were unable to get as close again until Rainey hit a 3 from beyond half-court at the buzzer to set the final score.
Laquawn Smith helped keep the Red Devils ahead with four free throws including two that had them up 62-56 with :15.1 left. Rainey hit a trey to get it back to within 3 and the Hornets got a timeout with :08.7 left.
Berkley hit a free throw after he was fouled on the ensuing inbounds play. With :03.4 left, Rainey was fouled. He converted the first to make it 63-60 but in an effort to miss, get the rebound and try another 3, he failed to hit the rim with his free throw.
Smith then put it out of reach with the last two free throws with :02.8 showing.
The 13-point deficit proved to be just a little too steep a hill. In the first half, the Hornets found themselves down 25-16 going into the last six minutes of the second quarter. But Martin buried a troika, Rainey hit two free throws and a jumper in the lane. Giles added a free throw then Ricky Buchanan grabbed an offensive rebound and fed Rainey for a hoop.
With 1:34 to go, Giles went to the line and converted twice to tie it. Wolfe scored inside to end a six-minute stretch between field goals for Jacksonville but when Hunt hit a running jumper off a drive with :13 left, it was knotted 30-30.
Crosby took a charge to wipe out a basket on the first possession of the second half and, moments later, Giles flushed a triple to give Bryant its first lead since it was 12-11 in the first quarter.
But Jacksonville responded with a 22-6 streak that included a trio of 3-pointers as well as a three-point play by Campbell. It was 48-39 going into the fourth quarter then Kerry Knight opened the final stanza with an easy bucket inside and Wolfe broke free for his dunk, setting the stage for the Hornets’ comeback.
Bryant, now 2-3, travels to Russellville on Tuesday before completing their pre-Christmas slate at home against Texarkana, Texas, on Friday.
RED DEVILS 65, HORNETS 63
Score by quarters
Jacksonville 20 10 18 17 — 65
BRYANT 16 14 9 24 — 63
RED DEVILS 65
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Wolfe 4-5 0-0 0-4 4 5 8
McChristin 0-3 0-0 1-0 1 0 0
Smith 0-3 4-5 0-1 1 2 4
Berkley 4-11 4-8 1-2 3 2 14
Jackson 0-0 0-0 0-1 1 2 0
Barnes 0-1 0-2 2-0 2 0 0
Freeman 2-2 2-2 2-0 2 2 6
Matthews 1-1 0-2 1-1 2 0 2
Knight 3-4 1-1 0-0 0 3 7
Campbell 5-12 4-5 1-5 6 2 18
Graydon 0-0 2-2 0-1 1 0 2
Appleby 1-5 2-2 2-1 3 2 4
Team 2-1 3
Totals 20-47 19-29 12-17 29 20 65
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Rainey 7-20 6-8 3-2 5 2 22
Hunt 3-8 1-2 3-1 4 3 7
Giles 4-11 4-6 0-6 6 5 15
Buchanan 0-1 0-0 2-2 4 2 0
Crosby 2-3 1-2 1-2 3 4 5
Strain 1-4 0-0 0-0 0 2 2
Martin 4-5 0-0 1-1 2 4 12
Duckworth 0-0 0-0 2-1 3 0 0
Totals 4-2 6
Totals 21-52 12-18 16-17 31 22 63
Three-point field goals: Bryant 9-17 (Martin 4-5, Giles 3-5, Rainey 2-3, Hunt 0-2, Buchanan 0-1, Strain 0-1), Jacksonville 6-18 (Campbell 4-6, Berkley 2-5, McChristin 0-2, Smith 0-2, Barnes 0-1, Knight 0-1, Appleby 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 13, Jacksonville 14.