CONWAY — When Caleb Finney followed his own miss to score for the Fayetteville Bulldogs, it cut the Bryant Hornets’ lead to 39-36 with 41 seconds left to play in a desperately contested war at the John Stanton Classic at Buzz Bolding Arena Saturday afternoon.
After a Fayetteville timeout, the Hornets inbounded against the press and the Bulldogs’ Nick Scalise stepped in front of a pass to give his team a chance to tie it.
Fayetteville’s head coach Kyle Adams called another timeout at that point, with :31.5 showing on the clock.
The Hornets never fully possessed the ball after that but their defense was tremendous. Initially, Fayetteville had to work and work to find an open shot, draining valuable time. Finally, Finney launched a 3.
Bryant’s Kaleb Turner grabbed the rebound and had it knocked out of his hands and out of bounds. It looked like the Hornets’ ball but it was ruled that Turner touched it last and Fayetteville — now with just :11.9 left — had another chance.
Again, the Bulldogs could not find an open look. Tyler Roth had to force a long 3-point try. It rimmed out long and Finney claimed it. Fayetteville took another timeout with :03.1 to go.
On the subsequent inbounds play, it looked like Bryant’s Romen Martin had a bead on a steal but Fayetteville’s Taylor Powell went through him to knock it out of bounds. Again, however, it was awarded to Fayetteville.
But Hornets head coach Mike Abrahamson noticed that the clock did not start upon contact and still read :03.1. He got the official’s attention and, after a discussion, the clock was reset at :02.8.
But it was still Fayetteville’s ball. Adams called one last timeout to try to set up a quick shot. The Bulldogs got it to Roth but, again, it wasn’t a clean look and he missed as the Hornets finished a defensive battle with the ultimate defensive stand and a 39-36 victory.
“We don’t block out,” said Abrahamson, regarding Fayetteville’s multiple opportunities. “That’s plain and simple. We better make some adjustments fast if we want to continue to go in the right direction.”
For the game, the Hornets were out-rebounded 29-16 but they held the Bulldogs to just 11 points in the second half on 5 of 22 shooting from the field (23 percent). It was that way all game pretty much after the Bulldogs came out and hit their first five shots of the game.
Even that hot shooting couldn’t produce more that a 5-point advantage for the Bulldogs, who came into the game remembering all too well facing the Hornets in the quarterfinals of the Class 7A State Tournament in Cabot last year and, despite being a heavy favorite, losing 65-54.
Neither team was able to establish much of a lead in what turned into a grinder of a game.
“That’s what I expected,” Abrahamson said. “Fayetteville’s so tough. They play great defense. They’re hard to guard on offense.
“That was quite a game for us,” he said. “That’s really going to make us better. We really got exposed on the rebounding, blocking out and lack of blocking out. But I thought we did other things really well to make up for it.
“Rebounding and defense are not separate,” the coach explained. “It’s one and the same. Blocking out and rebounding is the end of our defense. We didn’t finish our defensive possessions well.
“I thought, in the second half, other than that finishing touch, our kids’ effort was awesome defensively.”
Bryant’s largest lead was 5 but it developed in the fourth quarter and proved to be too much for Fayetteville to overcome, which scored just 5 points in the final period. The Hornets didn’t fare much better.
“We just try to do what we do, play with intensity,” Abrahamson said. “They run their stuff so well. So we tried to pressure the ball a little bit more. We tried to get in the passing lanes a little bit more so it’s harder for them to run their stuff the way they were running it the first half.
“I felt like we were trailing them the first half,” he added. “Everywhere they were cutting, we were just behind them instead of being in the position we needed to be in. It was just about our guys getting back to our basics.”
Romen Martin’s fourth 3-pointer of the game came with 7:17 left to play. It was Bryant’s final field goal, producing a 35-31 lead.
“I’ve seen it for four years,” Abrahamson said of Martin, who was the only double-figure scorer in the game with 16 points. “He’s an incredible player. He’s an incredible young man. I don’t know what I’m going to do without him next year but I’m going to just enjoy every minute with him this year. He’s a big-time player.”
Powell hit a free throw at the other end and the Bulldogs got a chance to get closer after taking a charge.
But the Hornets forced a turnover and, with 5:40 left, Braylen Steen went to the line and added two free throws to the throws to the Hornets’ edge, making it 37-32. That was Bryant’s largest lead of the game.
A baseline jumper by Roth cut it back to 3 and Fayetteville took its first timeout with 5:10 left. Switching to a 1-3-1 halfcourt zone instead of their man, Fayetteville allowed the Hornets to just hold the ball for a while. It may have been partly to help the Bulldogs get their legs under them. Both teams were playing on back-to-back days.
Once they stepped out, it looked like Steen had a lane to the rack and the potential of a 3-point play when his shot went down. But the basket was wiped out with Steen being called for a charge despite Abrahamson’s protests that the contact came after the ball had left his hand.
At the other end, however, Finney misfired. In turn, Turner attacked the basket and was fouled with 2:17 to go. His free throws made it a 5-point game once again.
A frustrating sequence commenced — frustrating to both teams. Finney couldn’t get a 3 to go but Bryant couldn’t secure the carom. Fayetteville’s Brennan Lewis grabbed it and flipped outside to Collin Cooper for another look from 3-point range. It wouldn’t go do either.
The rebound went out of bounds with a pack of players underneath and Fayetteville got that call with :46.9 showing. On the inbounds play, Finney missed inside but was able to follow his miss to set up the final sequence of events.
Martin’s first two triples kept the Hornets close during Fayetteville’s early barrage. His second bomb cut an 8-3 lead to 2. The Bulldogs pushed it to 12-7, matching that advantage (their largest of the game), before Calvin Allen came through with a three-point play with :45.3 left in the opening quarter. A late basket by Powell made it 14-10 going into the second stanza.
Allen opened the new period with a steal and layup. Barrett Bannister drove for a bucket for Fayetteville but Turner canned a baseline jay and, off a Bulldog turnover, Martin hit a layup to tie it 16-16.
In the final two minutes of the half, Martin nailed his third trey off a feed from Allen to tie it at 23 only to have Finney pop a 15-footer to put Fayetteville up by 2 at the half.
Roth opened the fourth quarter with a basket but then the Hornets went on a 9-2 spurt to gain the upper hand. Lowell Washington fed Steen inside resulting in a free throw. Martin took a charge that eventually led to a 3 from Turner off a kick-out from Allen off a drive.
With the game tied at 27, both teams missed chances to get the lead before Marvin Moody drove the baseline for a three-point play at the 4:36 mark, giving the Hornets their first lead of the game.
It was mostly a scramble the rest of the third quarter. Quinn Schach traded baskets with Allen then Finney hit a jump hook in the last minute to trim the Hornets’ lead to 32-31 going into the final eight minutes.
The win improved the Hornets to 9-1 this season.
“Our record is irrelevant,” stated Abrahamson. “Nobody remembers what you do in December. We’re trying to get better. We’re trying to be the best we can be, not just win a game.”
Bryant has one more tune-up before play in the 7A-Central Conference begins against Fort Smith Northside on Jan. 6. The Hornets play in the annual Coke Classic in Fort Smith, opening against the favorite for the Class 6A State championship, El Dorado, at 4:15 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 28.
HORNETS 39, BULLDOGS 36
Score by quarters
BRYANT 10 13 9 7 — 39
Fayetteville 14 11 6 5 — 36
HORNETS (9-1) 39
Martin 5-10 2-2 16, Turner 2-3 2-2 7, Allen 3-6 1-1 7, Moody 1-1 1-1 3, Steen 0-2 3-4 3, Washington 1-3 1-2 3, Chumley 0-3 0-0 0, Canada 0-1 0-0 0, McIntosh 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 12-30 10-12 39.
BULLDOGS (4-5) 36
Roth 4-10 0-0 8, Conley 0-0 0-0 0, Cooper 2-7 0-0- 6, Finney 4-11 0-0 8, Simon 3-6 1-1 7, Schach 1-1 0-0 2, Lewis 0-1 0-0 0, Powell 1-4 1-2 3, Bannister 1-1 0-0 2, Parmele 0-1 0-0 0, Scalise 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-42 2-3 36.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 5-13 (Martin 4-7, Turner 1-2, Chumley 0-2, Allen 0-1, Steen 0-1), Fayetteville 2-13 (Cooper 2-7, Roth 0-3, Finney 0-1, Lewis 0-1, Powell 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 15, Fayetteville 14. Rebounds: Bryant 4-12 16 (Martin 0-3 3, Washington 2-1 3, Allen 0-2 2, Turner 0-1 1, Moody 0-1 1, Steen 0-1 1, Canada 1-0 1, team 1-3 4), Fayetteville 15-14 29 (Simon 3-4 7, Finney 4-2 6, Roth 1-5 6, Powell 3-0 3, Schach 1-1 2, Lewis 1-1 2, Conley 0-1 1, team 2-0 2). Team fouls: Bryant 10, Fayetteville 15.