LITTLE ROCK — Over the years, Bryant Hornets head coach Mike Abrahamson has had some very good teams that have been ambushed and pounded at the Catholic High gym. So he knew it was going to be a physical challenge when this season’s sophomore-laden squad entered the Rockets’ pit on Tuesday night.
And, though the Rockets had struggled early in the season, they came into the contest on a three-game winning streak including a 48-41 victory over a Russellville team that had pinned a 70-57 loss on the Hornets.
So it had to be with great satisfaction that, when the dust cleared, Bryant, behind a 22-point performance from junior Kevin Hunt, had escaped with a 65-57 win, which clinched a trip to the Class 7A State Tournament.
“I was not looking forward to this one,” the coach acknowledged. “This is such a tough place to play. And Catholic has got to be one of the most improved teams in the state. We played them in the CAC tournament back in early December. We played them in January and now we play them here in February. And they just keep getting better and better. They’re physical and they’re big and they’re very well coached. And this is a tough environment. They have a great student section.
“We knew it was going to be a battle,” he asserted. “We knew it was going to be rough. I’m just really proud of our kids to have the toughness to come in here and win this game.”
It not only clinched their spot, it put them in position to vie for a top seed from the Central Conference. A share of first place will be on the line when the Van Buren Pointers visit the Hornets Nest this Friday.
But Abrahamson didn’t make a bid deal of Tuesday’s game with his young squad and he’s not planning on doing so leading up to Friday either.
“Of course, so we’re in so, it means a lot,” he said of the win at Catholic. “I just don’t want to put that extra pressure on our kids. And you know what? We’re in but we’re going to prepare the same way for Van Buren on Friday as we have for everybody else. We’re just going to try to stay locked in, keep doing the best that we can.”
The Hornets used their aggressive, scrambling defense to gain the upper hand early. It began to take its toll on the Rockets late in the half. Bryant put together a 13-1 blitz that turned a 21-18 edge into a 34-19 halftime lead. That was extended to start the third quarter when Wesley Peters made a steal and fed Hunt for a basket plus an and-one. At that point, the Hornets had nearly doubled up Catholic, 37-19.
“Our game plan was to pressure and make it crazy,” said Abrahamson. “And that worked a little bit in the beginning. Our guys were getting tired and getting in foul trouble so we switched to a zone. (The Rockets) were having trouble with that zone. We were really doing a great job being disruptive in it, switching the pace up. So we stuck with it. Our guys did a great job.”
But as might be expected, Catholic made a run at the Hornets in the fourth quarter. Bryant maintained a double-digit lead until the final minute when the Rocket got within 6, 61-55, with :29.5 showing.
They had to foul, however, and Peters, the lone senior on the team, came through with two conversions. And, after a Rockets’ miss, Peters rebounded and was fouled again. Once more, he converted to stretch the lead back to 10. A basket by Davis Fox at the end set the final score.
“I’m trying to get them to be more aggressive when we’re up and trying to hold a lead,” Abrahamson said. “And I actually thought they were, but still, the lead managed to dwindle down. We missed some free throws and had some turnovers. But then Wesley steps up and makes the last four.”
Romen Martin came through with 16 points for the Hornets including four 3’s. Lowell Washington had 10, Peters 7.
In fact, Martin opened the game with a 3 and, after baskets by the Rockets’ Trey Purifoy and Duncan Diaz put the Hornets behind by a point, he hit another..
A dunk by the 6-7 Purifoy tied it but Calvin Allen canned a 10-footer and Marvin Moody added on with an offensive-rebound bucket and, as it turned out, the Hornets were ahead for good.
Drake Enderlin hit a 3 for Catholic with 3:15 left in the first quarter but Hunt drove for his first bucket and added a layup off a steal by Moody to make it 14-9. After the Rockets’ Jake Mathis hit a short jumper, Bryant’s Jordan Walker was fouled on a 3-point attempt with :04.1 showing. He coolly knocked down all three free throws to make it 17-11 going into the second quarter.
Hunt added a 3 to start the period. But the 9-point lead was whittled to 21-18 by the 4:02 mark. That’s when the Hornets opened it up, sparked by a stickback by Washington. After Hunt hit a free throw, Martin made a steal and layup. Hunt swiped the ball and got it back to Martin who was fouled at the 1:59 mark. He converted once to make it 27-18. And when his second shot missed, Peters rebounded and got it to Washington for a bucket to produce the initial double-digit lead.
The roll continued with a steal by Hunt and a free throw. With 1:10 left, Martin drilled another triple. As the shot went in, Hunt was fouled trying to get into rebounding position. He converted a free throw to make it 34-18.
Catholic interrupted the spree when Lance Harville-Thomas hit a free throw in the final minute to set the halftime score.
The lead grew to 22 points late in the third quarter. Hunt drove for a basket and, moments later, drained a trey from the top of the key to make it 44-24. William Hancock scored inside for the Rockets but when Peters answered and Washington added a bucket from down low, it was 48-26.
Catholic’s Chad Wharton and Bryant’s Kaleb Turner traded 3’s but the Rockets scored the next 6 points.
With the lead down to 15, Hunt hit consecutive baskets attacking the rack. Catholic continued to whittle, however. Martin hit a 3 with 3:53 left to make it 58-40 but Diaz answered from long range. Wharton made a steal and scored and Harville-Thomas got free inside for a bucket that cut it to 58-47.
Peters interrupted with a free throw and Washington answered to from the line by Purifoy with a deuce inside. It was 61-49 with 1:47 left.
Diaz missed two free throws at 1:34 but Wharton chased down the rebound off the second miss and scored to make the lead 10. So when the Hornets came up empty on back-to-back trips to the free-throw line, Catholic was able to cut it to 6 on free throws by Harville-Thomas and a bucket by Diaz.
That set the stage for Peters’ clutch free throws.
HORNETS 65, ROCKETS 57
Score by quarters
BRYANT 17 17 17 14 — 65
LR CATHOLIC 11 8 14 24 — 57
BRYANT (12-10, 6-3, 3-1) 65
Hunt 8 4-8 22, Martin 5 2-6 16, Washington 5 0-0 10, Peterrs 1 5-6 7, Walker 0 3-3 3, Turner 1 0-0 3, Allen 1 0-1 2, Moody 1 0-2 2. Totals: 22 14-26 65.
LITTLE ROCK CATHOLIC (5-15, 4-5, 0-4) 57
Diaz 5 1-5 12, Wharton 3 2-2 9, Harville-Thomas 2 5-6 9, Purifoy 2 3-6 7, Mathis 3 1-1 7, Hancock 2 2-2 6, Fox 1 2-2 4, Enderlin 1 0-0 3. Totals: 19 16-24 57.
Three-point goals: Bryant 7 (Martin 4, Hunt 2, Turner), Little Rock Catholic 4 (Diaz, Enderlin, Wharton, Hancock). Fouls: Bryant 21, Little Rock Catholic 24.
(Special thanks to Martin Couch for his help on this report.)