By Rob Patrick
RUSSELLVILLE — The Bryant Hornets’ hopes for a trip to the Class 7A State Tournament took a hit Friday night.The Russellville Cyclones, who came into the game still seeking their first 7A-Central Conference win, built a lead of as much as 18 in the first half then held for a 49-43 win after Bryant cut the margin to 1.
At 2-7 in the league, the Hornets will now need to pull an upset or two of their own to nail down a State bid and they’ll get their first chance to do that on Saturday in a make-up game at home against Van Buren at 3:30 p.m. There will be four games after that.
The Hornets are, of course, not without hope particularly in light of how tough they played North Little Rock and Little Rock Central earlier this season. Those two teams and Van Buren are all tied for second place in the conference.[more]
The loss to Russellville, 4-17 overall, was nonetheless a tough one to take and the slow start just came down to shots not falling for the Hornets. Relegated to perimeter shooting by Russellville’s tight 2-3 zone, the Hornets came out cold. All nine of their shots in the first quarter came from 3-point range but only one of them fell as Russellville built a 15-3 advantage.
Dontay Renuard, who hit that 3, added a free throw early in the second quarter but Russellville’s lead ballooned to 22-4 before Brandon Parish hit a 3 with 1:43 left in the half for Bryant.
The Hornets were 2 of 14 from the field in the half, 2 of 12 from 3-point range. But the margin was down to 13, 22-9, at the break thanks to a pair of late free throws by Parish.
“When we played up here before, we had something like 8 points at halftime,” noted Hornets coach Ron Marvel, recalling the game between the two teams in the Cyclone Classic tournament which Bryant eventually won 40-36. “We didn’t even score in the first quarter.
“(Tonight) we were just too tentative in taking our shots, like we were tight,” he added. “No one was shooting relaxed. Everybody was shooting real tense. I can’t explain why kids tense up. I wish I could. But they were all real tight and nobody wanted to shoot the ball. And when they did shoot it, they didn’t feel comfortable because they didn’t feel like they were supposed to shoot it. The first half, we just played so poorly.
“The second half, we tried to pressure them a little on defense,” the coach noted. “We told the kids just quit thinking about it. Just take it down there and pass it a few times and shoot it. That seemed to work a little better than trying to run an offense with them.”
K-Ron Lairy, who scored all 17 of his game-high points during the second half, got the rally started with a 3-pointer that cut into Russellville’s 25-9 lead.
Like most comebacks, this one was fueled by defense. Kendall Butzlaff got the ball back for the Hornets by setting up and absorbing a charge. Renuard took advantage with a 3.
Russellville’s Grey Harris misfired on a 3-point try and Butzlaff battled for a tough rebound. Lairy kept the comeback going with another 3 despite being fouled. Though he was unable to complete the four-point play, the margin was down to 25-18.
Harris hit a free throw and Eric Turner canned a 15-footer to bump the margin back to 10 before Lairy drained his third troika of the quarter. Chris Washington hit a free throw for Russellville but when Renuard finished the scoring in the period with a 12-foot jumper, the Hornets were within 29-23.
Free throws by K.J. Hampton and Parish had Bryant within 5 early in the final period. Russellville’s Blake Robinson missed a front end with 6:33 left and, at the other end, Parish drove into the paint and kicked out to Lairy who bombed in another triple that had the Hornets as close as they’d been since the opening moments of the game, 31-29.
Terrence Daniels hit a free throw to make it 32-29 and Lairy made a bid to tie it only to have his shot rim out. But he followed up with a steal that garnered him a trip to the free-throw line where he connected twice to trim the margin to 1 with 5:19 to play.
Turner countered with a pair from the line but Renuard’s 15-footer had Bryant down just 34-33 with 4:43 left. And the Hornets had a chance to take the lead when they forced a Cyclone turnover. But they turned it over themselves. The teams traded turnovers a second time before Harris was fouled with 3:23 to go.
After Harris hit a free throw, Bryant missed and Russellville’s Damarius Neal drove the baseline for a bucket. Renuard missed a 3 and Harris pitched in another free throw to make it 39-33.
With 1:43 left, L.J. McLaughlin started another Bryant charge at the lead with a 3. Russellville pushed it back to 42-36 but a drive to the rack by McLaughlin kept the Hornets close. Washington hit a free throw with :57 left but Lairy connected from long range again and, with :47 left, the margin was down to 2.
With the momentum, the Hornets continued to press only to have Robinson get lost behind the defense, taking a long pass and scoring as the Hornets sprinted back. Lairy got there just in time to foul him and the three-point play made it a two-possession game.
Parish couldn’t get a 3 to go but Lairy appeared to have collected the rebound, going to the floor under the Hornets backboard. Marvel tried to call timeout and got a signal acknowledging it from the outside official while the official on the baseline ruled that Lairy was laying on the end line when he hit the floor.
When play resumed, the Hornets set up for an inbounds play but the ball was awarded to Russellville despite Marvel’s protests that he’d gotten the timeout before Lairy was ruled out of bounds.
In the final :30, Harris, who led his team with 12 points, sealed the win at the free-throw line.
The Cyclones were 21 of 32 from the line in the game including 14 of 21 in the fourth quarter. Bryant was 10 of 13 from the line in the contest.
“We had two chances late to win the ballgame,” Marvel mentioned. “We had some kids make some crucial, crucial mistakes. We didn’t have a guy back and we gave up that lay-in. Before that, we had two lay-ins where we hit our guy right in the hands under the basket and he fumbles both balls out of bounds.”
The Hornets just could never get even or take the lead after their impressive comeback.
“That’ll deflate you,” Marvel acknowledged. “We got deflated twice and we came back twice. If we don’t give up that long pass for a lay-in, where they just threw it over our defense — that was probably the biggest play of the ballgame. The other was when they had a kid drive down the baseline. We had two guys in position to cut him off and neither one of them did. We just had big blunders at the wrong times. Things we didn’t do last week (in a win at Little Rock Catholic) but things we’ve done before this year.”
RUSSELLVILLE 49, BRYANT 43
Score by quarters
BRYANT 3 6 14 20 — 43
Russellville 15 7 7 20 — 49
HORNETS (9-14, 2-7) 43
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Lairy 5-14 2-3 2-2 4 4 17
Parish 1-8 6-6 1-0 1 3 9
Butzlaff 0-0 0-0 0-4 4 5 0
Hampton 0-0 1-2 1-4 5 4 1
Renuard 4-12 1-2 1-4 5 2 11
McLaughlin 2-4 0-0 1-0 1 3 5
Rayburn 0-1 0-0 1-3 4 3 0
Team 0-3 3
Totals 12-39 10-13 7-20 27 24 43
CYCLONES (4-17, 1-9) 49
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Washington 1-3 5-9 0-4 4 4 7
Webb 3-4 1-2 0-2 2 3 7
Harris 1-5 9-12 0-2 2 4 12
Robinson 3-5 3-5 0-1 1 2 9
Turner 3-7 2-2 1-5 6 1 9
Heilman 0-1 0-0 0-1 1 1 0
Neal 2-2 0-0 0-1 1 1 4
Daniels 0-0 1-2 0-1 1 0 1
Team 1-1 2
Totals 13-27 21-32 2-18 20 16 49
Three-point field goals: Bryant 9-29 (Lairy 5-12, Renuard 2-9, Parish 1-5, McLaughlin 1-2, Rayburn 0-1), Russellville 2-11 (Harris 1-4, Turner 1-4, Washington 0-1, Webb 0-1, Robinson 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 14, Russellville 10.