ALMA — Back in the days before it became too politically incorrect to say, it was called the “killer instinct.” The ability to put away a team that you have down, to keep the intensity up and finish strong without letting the opponent develop any thought of a comeback bid.
It’s something that Bryant head coach Mike Abrahamson has been trying to develop in his Hornets basketball team over the last two seasons with mixed results.
But, on Friday night against a pesky Alma team, the Hornets may have turned a corner in a 61-50 win.
It helped that the Airedales were a fresh reminder of what could happen when the Hornets didn’t finish strong. When the team teams met in Bryant on Feb. 2, the Hornets got off to a fast start and had Alma down 13 before a buzzer-beating 3 cut the margin to 32-22.
The Airedales wound up hitting 12 of 16 from 3-point range in the game and rallying for a 55-53 upset win.
“I think part of it is, we had such good kids,” said Abrahamson. “They don’t want to make any mistakes. And when they do, they hold onto it instead of move on from it. It’s because they don’t want to let their team down.
“But, at the same time, we need to be mature enough and tough enough to just to move on and make the next right play,” he explained. “We did a little bit more of that tonight than we have in the past. I’m proud of them.”
In fact, the halftime difference on Friday night was the same as the previous meeting. Bryant led by 10, this time 32-22.
“We talked about that,” Abrahamson acknowledged. “This time, they didn’t hit the half-court shot.
“I think our kids finally have learned that they’re not going away, after playing them four times in two years,” he said regarding the Airedales. “There are certain teams that you play that are just tough matches for you. They might lose to a team that we might have handled a little easier like Greenwood. They lost to Greenwood on Tuesday and we beat Greenwood by 17 and 28. But, for us, (Alma) is just a tough match. Every time they shoot it, I think it’s going in. So every shot they take has a certain level of anxiety that comes along with it.”
The Airedales still hit 10 3’s but this time, it took 32 attempts to get there.
“Our kids really worked hard to contest their shots, really worked hard to get defensive rebounds; had a nice balance of attacking the basket with also hitting some perimeter shots offensively,” the coach noted. “Then, we didn’t panic when they hit a couple of shots in the fourth quarter to cut it. We handled the ball and we were able to get a few layups and free throws and hold the lead. They hit a couple of tough 3’s but we held that lead because of what our guards did this time.
“It’s good to see them win it like that against (Alma) because of how we lost it against them last time. Good for our psyche, I hope.”
The Hornets, now 19-6, have two games left in the regular season. They’ll travel to Conway on Tuesday then finish at home against the Siloam Springs Panthers on Senior Night on Friday.
After that, it’s the Class 7A State Tournament in Cabot.
In the earlier meeting with Alma, the Airedales whittled the Bryant lead to 6 by the end of the third quarter but, this time, the Hornets added on, building as much as a 16-point advantage.
As Abrahamson indicated, the Airedales made a run at the Hornets nonetheless. Heath Friddle hit his fourth 3 of the night, on his way to a game-high 22 points, but Bryant’s Jordan Walker rainbowed in his third in response. But a 3 from Jonny Harms, two free throws by Friddle and a driving layup from Will Cluck had Alma within 50-42 with 5:11 left.
The Hornets went to a spread offense looking for lanes to drive to the basket. They worked the clock down to 3:52 when Alma committed a foul. It was just the Airedales second of the half so they were five fouls away from putting the Hornets in the bonus.
The third foul came at 3:28. The fourth at 2:54.
Hornets point guard Calvin Allen couldn’t complete a drive to the basket and didn’t get a call despite being knocked to the floor. The Airedales got a look at a shot that would’ve trimmed the margin further but Harms was unable to convert. Braylon Steen collected one of his 10 rebounds and, at the other end, Kevin Hunt found a seam and attacked the basket, splitting two defenders for a layup, pushing the lead back to 10.
Harms missed a 3 and Alma committed the fifth team foul of the half with 1:50 to go. But no one fouled Hunt on another whirling move on the rack. He scooped a double-clutch shot up and in to make it 54-42 with 1:42 to go.
Friddle stuck back his own miss at the 1:09 mark and, with :59.6 to go, the Airedales committed their sixth team foul. The Hornets were still not in the bonus.
But they fouled quickly and Allen went to the line where he drilled both shots to bump the lead back to 12.
As Abrahamson said, however, the Airedales would not go easily. Alex Beneaux hit a 3 to cut the margin to 9. This time Romen Martin was fouled and he converted once to make it 57-46 with :40.2 on the clock.
A 3 by Alma’s Nathan Corder kept the pressure on, traimming it to 7 but Allen stepped up with both ends of a one-and-one with :29 left then a steal and layup to seal it with :17 to go.
Hunt finished with 20 points and Martin had 16. Walker struck for 9 and Allen 8, all in the second half.
The two teams traded 3’s to start the game. For Alma, it was Friddle and Braden Johnson. For Bryant, it was Martin and Hunt.
A basket off a drive by Hunt gave Bryant an 8-6 edge but Corder knocked down a 3 to give Alma a 1-point advantage. Friddle followed his own miss to make it 11-8.
Hunt answered off a drive then fed Martin for a 3 to put Bryant back on top. Corder hit a baseline jumper to tie it at 13 going into the second quarter.
Steen drained a jumper in the lane and Hunt followed up with another triple, giving Bryant an 18-13 lead. The Hornets never trailed after that.
Johnson interrupted what turned out to be a 13-3 surge with his Trey but Margin hit a driving jumper and Walker, in off the bench, found the range for back-to-back triples and a 26-16 lead that induced an Alma timeout.
Friddle hit a 3 and two free throws to trim it back to 5 but the Airedales couldn’t get closer as the Hornets closed out the half with free throws from Hunt, a 15-footer by Steen and a 3 from Martin with :04.5 left in the half to make it 33-23.
Though Friddle scored to start the third quarter, the Hornets responded with a 10-2 binge that included two baskets from Hunt, two by Martin and a bucket inside from Lowell Washington.
That created the largest margin of the game at 43-27. It was 47-32 going into the fourth quarter.
HORNETS 61, AIREDALES 50
Score by quarters
BRYANT. 13. 25. 14. 14 — 61
Alma. 13. 10. 9. 18 — 50
HORNETS (19-6, 9-3, 4-1) 61
Allen 2-5 4-4 8, Hunt 8-11 2-3 20, Martin 6-10 1-2 16, Steen 3-6 0-0 6, Washington 1-4 0-0 2, Moody 0-0 0-0 0, Sahr 0-0 0-0 0, Walker 3-3 0-0 9, Cowart 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-39 (59%) 7-9 (78%) 61.
AIREDALES (11-12, 4-8, 1-4) 50
Friddle 7-13 4-4 22, Johnson 2-2 0-0 6, Beneaux 2-5 2-2 7, Corder 3-13 0-0 8, Jensen 0-2 0-0 0, Cluck 2-2 0-0 4, Dotson 0-2 0-0 0, Harms 1-7 0-0 3. Totals 17-46 (37%) 6-6 (100%) 50.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 8-13 (Martin 3-5, Walker 3-3, Hunt 2-3, Allen 0-1, Washington 0-1), Alma 10-32 (Friddle 4-9, Corder 2-11, Johnson 2-2, Beneaux 1-1, Harms 1-5, Jensen 0-2, Dotson 0-2). Turnovers: Bryant 12, Alma 10. Rebounds: Bryant 4-20 24 (Steen 0-10 10, Washington 0-6 6, Hunt 1-2 3, Allen 0-1 1, Martin 1-0 1, team 2-1 3), Alma 8-13 21 (Beneaux 1-6 7, Friddle 3-1 4, Johnson 2-1 3, Jensen 0-2 2, Corder 1-0 1, Cluck 0-1 1, Harms 0-1 1, team 1-1 2). Team fouls: Bryant 9, Alma 13.