For more photos from this event by Kevin Nagle, go here
CONWAY — At long last, a close victory. The Bryant Hornets had played close against every team ahead of them in the 7A-Central Conference standings coming into their final regular-season game on Friday night at Buzz Bolding Arena. But they’d come out on the short end far too often to suit them.
This time, the Hornets made the clutch plays down the stretch to hold off the Conway Wampus Cats for a 47-41 victory as they improved to 17-10 on the season going into the Class 7A State Tournament in Van Buren next week.
Despite the win, the Hornets will still be the sixth seed from the 7A-Central Conference. Though tied with Conway in the standings, the Hornets needed to win by 7 or more to jump over the Cats for the fifth seed. Because Conway had won by the same margin when the two teams met in Bryant on Jan. 27, the decision came to down to points overall in the league and Conway had an edge 50-47.
So the Hornets will open the Class 7A State Tournament on Thursday, March 2, at 2:30 p.m., against the third-seeded team from the 7A-West Conference, which unofficially figures to be the host team. No doubt, classes will be let out early at Van Buren on Thursday to attend the game, creating a hostile environment for Bryant.
But the Hornets have played in some hostile environments before.
It appears the Wampus Cats will open the tournament at 2:30 p.m., on Wednesday, March 1, against Fayetteville.
It was a much-needed win and a big relief for the Hornets who had seen so many close games get away.
“I thought this one might too,” said head coach Mike Abrahamson. “But our guys had enough toughness and made enough winning plays to win the game. We made our free throws and we didn’t turn it over when they started to press. We got some timely rebounds. We actually finished a game for once.”
Asked about getting a lift going into State with the victory, the coach related, “There’s been times where we’ve ended the regular season — including last year — on a down note but I think we’ve had enough down notes. We’ll take a positive note.
“We’ll go into next week and everybody’s got a clean slate,” he added. “We’ll treat it like every other game. We’re going to treat this just like we treated Greenbrier. Hopefully, that’ll benefit us by not changing things up.”
Another thing the Hornets had struggled with this year has been a slow start to their games but this time they played very well in the first half and never trailed.
In the second half, Conway made a push to get within 4 but could get no closer. In the fourth quarter, the Cats whittled the margin down to 1 with 4:10 left to play. Lowell Washington, who finished with 14 points for the Hornets, took a feed from point guard Calvin Allen and scored inside to respond in the clutch.
After a timeout, Conway’s Kylen Milton grabbed the carom off a teammate’s miss and scored to trim it to 1 again. This time, Romen Martin came through, splashing his third 3 of the game and the last of his game-high 17 points, making it 39-35.
In turn, Conway missed two shots and the Hornets came out with it. Allen dished to Braylen Steen this time and he scored as he was fouled. Steen’s free throw rimmed out so it remained a two-possession game, 41-35, with 1:59 to go, though Sam Chumley snuck inside and nearly tipped it in.
The Hornets used soft full-court pressure to force Conway to take up time getting the ball into the front court. Carson Petrucelli missed a 3 but Milton rebounded and, with 1:18 showing, Gentrell Taylor posted up for a bucket, cutting it to 4.
Allen converted the front end of a one-and-one but Conway’s Blake Bradshaw drove for a bucket and it was just 42-39 as the Cats took a timeout with :57.9 showing.
When play resumed, the Hornets burned Conway’s pressure. Allen broke loose and fed Washington for a layup that extended the margin back to 5.
Conway then turned the ball over and Washington was fouled with :30.9 to go. He converted both shots to make it a three-possession lead, 46-39.
Bradshaw scored with :16 left before Steen put the finishing touches on the victory with a free throw.
“I didn’t like the way we started the second half or the fourth quarter but they finished it,” Abrahamson observed. “They responded and they finished it off. I was proud of that effort tonight. It was good to see going into next week. And I hope that boosts their confidence because they’re actually capable of a little bit more. But they did what they needed to do to get a win tonight.”
Allen finished with 5 points and nine assists. Chumley hit a pair of 3’s for his 6 points and Steen finished with 5.
Martin started the game with a 3 and, after Taylor scored, Chumley bombed in his first trey. A layup by Allen and, later, his two free throws extended the opening surge to 10-2. Petrucelli’s 3 made it 10-5 going into the second quarter.
Off a steal by Chumley, Washington got his first points on a driving jumper. Martin scored 7 consecutive points for the Hornets, answering Conway buckets, and it was 19-13 going into the final minute of the half. In the closing seconds, Allen drove, drew and dished to Washington to beat the buzzer. That made it an 8-point margin at the break.
Chumley pumped in his second triple off an inbounds pass from Allen to start the fourth quarter. Kendarius Smith and Steen traded baskets then Conway began its push to trim the margin to 26-22. The run was capped off by Petrucelli’s 3.
Conway had a chance to get closer but wound up missing a shot then turning the ball over. Martin extended the margin with a pair of free throws with 2:24 left.
Free throws proved to be huge. Bryant was 10 of 13 from the line including 6 of 9 in the fourth quarter while Conway, playing at home on Senior Night, converted just 2 of 7 from the stripe.
Trailing 28-22, the Cats managed just one of four free throws over two possessions. Washington scored off the offensive glass and, after Bradshaw hit a jump-hook, Washington beat the buzzer, again off an assist from Allen, to make it 32-25 going into the final frame.
Bradshaw’s three-point play started the fourth quarter and Conway’s rally to get within a point. But the Hornets never relinquished the lead.
HORNETS 47, WAMPUS CATS 41
Score by quarters
BRYANT 10 11 11 15 — 47
Conway 5 8 12 16 — 41
HORNETS (17-10, 6-8) 47
Martin 5-8 4-4 17, Allen 1-6 3-4 5, Chumley 2-6 0-0 6, Moody 0-1 0-0 0, Steen 2-6 1-3 5, Washington 6-10 2-2 14, Canada 0-0 0-0 0, Cowart 0-1 0-0 0, Turner 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-38 10-13 47.
WAMPUS CATS (14-13, 6-8) 41
Stone 0-1 0-0 0, Taylor 2-6 0-0 4, Smith 5-12 1-2 11, Williams 2-7 0-0 5, Obannon 0-2 0-0 0, Ashby 0-0 0-0 0, Macon 0-0 0-0 0, Maull 0-0 0-0 0, Bradshaw 5-9 1-3 11, Milton 2-4 0-2 4, Petrucelli 2-5 0-0 6. Totals 18-46 2-7 41.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 5-13 (Martin 3-6, Chumley 2-4, Allen 0-1, Steen 0-1, Washington 0-1), Conway 3-15 (Petrucelli 2-5, Williams 1-5, Smith 0-2, Obannon 0-2, Stone 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 13, Conway 12. Rebounds: Bryant 6-19 25 (Washington 1-4 5, Chumley 2-3 5, Steen 0-4 4, Moody 1-2 3, Martin 0-1 1, Allen 0-1 1, Cowart 0-1 1, Turner 0-1 1, team 2-2 4), Conway 9-18 27 (Williams 0-6 6, Bradshaw 3-3 6, Milton 4-1 5, Taylor 2-1 3, Stone 0-1 1, Obannon 0-1 1, Macon 0-1 1, Petrucelli 0-1 1, team 0-3 3). Team fouls: Bryant 11, Conway 16.