By Rob Patrick
EL DORADO — There were no weak-kneed Wilburs on the floor at El Dorado High School’s[more] splendid Wildcat Arena Friday night. The competitive juices were flowing as the Bryant Hornets and the home-standing Wildcats engaged in a man’s game. Both went full tilt from the outset and, in an up-and-down thriller, the Hornets prevailed by answering every El Dorado challenge right through overtime.
The 70-67 victory was the Hornets’ third in a row since losing six of seven coming off the Christmas break.
“That was a man’s game and I’m glad we participated in it,” concurred Hornets coach Mike Abrahamson. “Very competitive. That’s the number one trait that I want in my teams, toughness and competitiveness, which I kind of think is the same thing because if you’re competitive, you’re tough and if you’re tough, you’re competitive. We talk about that a lot, clearly they’re listening. They’re buying into it. They made the plays. They did respond every time.”
Though they trailed only briefly in the fourth quarter, the Hornets led by just 2 going into the closing seconds of regulation. El Dorado tied it on a driving jumper by Chris White. Bryant got a timeout with :01.8 left to play and Abrahamson drew up a play that nearly worked.
Needing to go the length of the court, Zach Cambron threw to K.J. Hill at midcourt. Hill took a quick dribble to his right and laced a pass to Tyler Simmons who found himself open about 28 feet from the basket. He launched a 3 that would’ve counted had it gone but it came off the rim and the game went to overtime.
“In a way that energized us, seeing that it worked,” Abrahamson related. “We just missed it. In a way, instead of being let down going into overtime, we were almost encouraged.”
Still, El Dorado gained the upper hand early in the extra stanza. Jacorry Tate hit the offensive glass for a bucket in much the same way the Wildcats had done down the stretch to stay in the ballgame. Bryant’s Greyson Giles hit a free throw but a layup by Sandy Brown off a drive and dish from Deaunte Broadnax had El Dorado up 67-64 with 3:08 left to play.
As it turned out, the Wildcats would not score again. They still were in a position to win, however, after a Bryant miss. Tristan Simmons, second cousin of Bryant’s Tyler Simmons, launched a 3 that missed but Brown got the rebound. Hill forced a held ball, though, and, moments later, took a perfect feed from Tyler Simmons for a flying layup, cutting it to 67-66.
It was then that the Wildcats spread the floor and forced the Hornets to extend their zone defense then go ‘man’. With under two minutes left, the ball got loose and nearly half the players on the court were on the floor in a mad scramble for possession. Bryant’s Simmons gained control long enough to call a timeout with 1:33 to go.
Given the chance to regain the advantage, the Hornets cashed in, working the ball until Simmons found a gap for a drive, making a spin in the lane for a short jumper with 1:13 to go.
Tristan Simmons missed another 3-point try and, with :26.3 to go, C.J. Rainey shooting into the basket in front of the raucous El Dorado student section, coolly drained both free throws.
The game was paused when the officials asked for an El Dorado administrator to take care of a student who had tossed a plastic bottle onto the floor.
The Wildcats worked the ball up the floor and Rainey nearly made a steal, knocking the ball out of bounds near midcourt with :10.4 showing. El Dorado coach Gary Simmons, Tristan’s father and the cousin of Bryant freshman coach Mike Simmons, called a timeout to try to set up a play for a game-tying 3. But Bryant defended well and nobody that had hit a 3 could get free to take one. Jalen Cunningham wound up firing one up for the left wing only to have it come off the rim as the buzzer sounded.
“I’m just happy for these kids,” Abrahamson said of his team. “They deserve it. I’m proud of them. We’ve been through a lot of adversity, on the court, off the court, in the locker room, out of the locker room, and they just keep responding. They keep showing up. We just kind of get them back on the right path and re-center their focus. They just keep responding. I hope they never turn back.
“It’s the type of thing that doesn’t show right away,” he continued. “I think we went up to Fort Smith (for the Coke Classic after Christmas) and didn’t play well because we hadn’t practiced a lot. We played some good teams and took a couple of losses. Then we played Benton, a really good team, and took a loss. We’ve been inching along, inching along and not taking a lot of big steps. I think tonight was a pretty significant step to come out after a long bus ride and in a tough environment — they had a great student section — and, not to mention, a really, really good team. I mean, El Dorado is tough.”
The Wildcats are 3-3 in the league with wins over three teams that had gotten past Bryant, J.A. Fair and Pine Bluff on the road and Sheridan at home, the Cats’ only other home conference game so far. The Hornets are 3-4 going into Tuesday’s Saline County showdown with league-leading Benton, which improved to 18-2 overall and 7-0 in the league by beating second-place Pine Bluff on Friday.
The Hornets started their game well on Friday. Senior Skyler McKissock turned in a three-point play on a driving shot that he put high off the glass to get it over a taller player. White drove for a bucket but then McKissock drained a 3.
Brown scored off the offensive glass then a flurry of steals occurred. Ultimately, Tyler Simmons took advantage of his with a layup.
The Hornets maintained the advantage for the rest of the half. Rainey came off the bench to make a steal and layup then Strodney Davis took a feed from Simmons in the corner and drained a 3.
El Dorado closed within 16-13 going into the final seconds of the first quarter but Zach Cambron hit the offensive glass for a basket then Luke Rayburn made a steal and beat the buzzer with a layup that made it 20-13.
The Wildcats charged back within 22-20 with a dunk by Brown, a steal in the press and a 3 by Tate, forcing a Bryant timeout. Again, however, the Hornets responded with an 14-4 surge. Cambron scored inside, McKissock made a steal and, off a kickout from Cambron, nailed another triple. Cambron added a free throw and, after Broadnax hit a short jumper, Simmons knocked down a charity toss as the Hornets reached the double bonus with 3:38 still to play in the half.
Cambron added a stickback, Simmons made another steal and fed Rayburn for a layup to make it 33-22.
After a timeout, the Wildcats got a basket from Tristan Simmons only to have Giles pump in a trey, which game the Hornets their largest lead of the game, 36-24.
The Wildcats closed the gap before the half, making it 37-29 at the break.
And they continued the surge to start the second half. Brown hit a 12-footer, White canned a free throw and Cunningham knocked down a pair, trimming the lead to 37-34.
But Tyler Simmons, who led the Hornets with 15 points, answered with a 3 and Hill drove into the lane for a short jumper to maintain the advantage.
Eventually, however, El Dorado drew even, closing the third quarter with a 6-0 run. And when Cunningham scored the first basket of the fourth quarter, the Wildcats were up 49-47.
It didn’t last long, though. Hill came from behind to block a shot at the rim and, going back the other way, Giles spotted up and fired in a 3. Cunningham missed and Hill buried a troika as the lead began to seesaw.
El Dorado pushed back and took a 55-54 edge with 3:59 left and had a chance to increase the lead only to turn the ball over. Giles hit a layup off a feed from Rainey then Simmons converted twice at the line.
White made it a 1-point game but Hill scored despite being fouled. Brown scored inside with :55 left to make it 60-59 but Simmons tossed in two more free throws with :42.3 showiing.
After a timeout, Cunningham cut it to 1 again. Simmons hit the second of a two-shot trip to the line with :18.4 left setting up White’s game-tying bucket and the overtime.
Giles finished with 12 points. Hill and Cambron each had 10, McKissock 9, Rainey 6, Rayburn 5 and Davis 3. Brown led all scorers with 22 points to go with 11 rebounds. White added 15 points and Cunningham 10.
BRYANT 70, EL DORADO 67, OT
Score by quarters
BRYANT 20 17 10 16 7 — 70
El Dorado 13 16 18 16 4 — 67
HORNETS (14-7, 3-4) 70
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Hill 4-7 1-3 1-2 3 3 10
McKissock 3-4 1-1 0-1 1 1 9
Ty.Simmons 4-12 6-9 1-2 3 1 15
Reed 0-2 0-0 2-0 2 3 0
Cambron 4-9 2-3 5-2 7 2 10
Rainey 1-7 4-4 2-3 5 0 6
S.Davis 1-2 0-0 0-0 0 0 3
Giles 3-7 4-6 3-5 8 2 12
Rayburn 2-5 1-2 1-0 1 1 5
Team 0-2 2
Totals 22-55 19-28 15-17 32 13 70
WILDCATS (8-9, 3-3) 67
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Tate 2-10 1-2 4-0 4 2 6
Cunningham 4-10 2-2 1-5 6 4 10
Brown 11-13 0-0 6-5 11 2 22
White 7-10 1-4 3-4 7 5 15
Johnson 0-0 0-0 0-1 1 2 0
Shutes 2-2 0-0 0-1 1 0 4
Tr.Simmons 3-10 0-0 0-1 1 2 8
J.Davis 0-2 0-0 0-0 0 5 0
Seweje 0-0 0-0 1-0 1 2 0
Broadnax 1-5 0-0 0-5 5 0 2
Team 0-0 0
Totals 30-62 4-8 15-22 37 24 67
Three-point field goals: Bryant 7-17 (Giles 2-4, McKissock 2-3, Ty.Simmons 1-7, Hill 1-1, S.Davis 1-1, Cambron 0-1), El Dorado 3-24 (Tr.Simmons 2-8, Tate 1-7, Cunningham 0-5, Broadnax 0-2, White 0-1, J.Davis 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 15, El Dorado 20.