By Rob Patrick
CABOT — The Bryant Hornets and Cabot South Panthers freshman basketball teams came into Thursday’s contest against each other in dire need of a victory to stay in contention for the championship of the South Division of the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference. Both were on the outside looking in at co-leaders Benton and North Little Rock. Bryant was two games off the pace after a loss at home to North Little Rock and Cabot South was three games behind after losing at Benton in their previous outing.
The result was a frenetic, physical war played for the most part at a furious pace that went down to the final minute before the Hornets escaped with a 43-38 victory.[more]
Improving to 11-4 overall and 4-2 in the division, the Hornets will meet Benton for the first time at home on Monday, Jan. 11, with a chance to nudge their way right into the thick of the league race.
Bryant led Cabot South 38-26 with 2:43 left in the game. Less than two minutes later, however, the margin was down to 3, 38-35, despite the fact that the Panthers were struggling to hit their free throws. In fact, with :44.7 left, they had a chance to trim the margin to 1 with a pair at the line only to miss them both.
Bryant’s Aaron Bell slashed for a driving layup at the other end then made a steal. He was fouled with :26.7 left and made a free throw to complete his 15-point night. The weary Panthers turned the ball over and two more free throws by Riley Hall secured a 43-35 lead that was narrowed by Brandon Boatright’s 3 at the end.
As usual, Bryant head coach Steve Wilson alternated two five-player groups through the first half then substituted liberally in the second as the Hornets put together a surge into the lead in the third quarter. The freshness of his players may have been a factor at the end when Cabot just couldn’t come all the way back.
Bell was the lone Hornets in double figures, matching Cabot’s Clayton Vaught for game-high honors. Eight different Hornets scored (compared to five for the Panthers). Leon Neale finished with 8 and four players — Hall, Zach Cambron, Marcus Wilson and Jalen Hewitt — pitched in 4 apiece.
The Panthers led most of the first half after breaking out to a 6-2 lead. Hewitt hit a jumper from the right corner to kind of get the Hornets on track and when Scott Workman followed his own miss with a bucket at the buzzer ending the first quarter, the Hornets were within 8-6 going into the second period.
And when Bell made a steal and knocked down a 3 early in the second, the game was tied at 9. Hewitt’s stickback moments later gave Bryant a brief lead but Cabot answered with a 6-0 run.
Strodney Davis fed Hall for a bucket but Vaught answered. Neale got a layup off an nifty assist from Hall but Manny Ramirez hit a driving jumper in the closing seconds of the half to put Cabot South up 19-15.
The Hornets poured on the pressure in the third quarter, both defensively in a full-court press and offensively with drives to the rack.
After Cabot South, incredibly, went the entire first half without being cited for a foul, the Panthers started putting the Hornets at the line in the third, rapidly getting into the bonus. Neale started the second-half scoring with two free throws after being fouled following a teammate’s miss. Those free throws started a 10-2 blitz only interrupted by a shot by Vaught. Along the way, Neale and Cambron each converted two free throws, Neale knocked down a running jumper then after making a steal, scored again as he was fouled. Though he was unable to complete the three-point play, Bell, later, canned a jumper in the lane to give the Hornets a 25-21 lead.
Vaught hit a free throw with :38.5 left in the quarter but Bell hit a pair then Wilson made a steal and layup to bump the margin to 29-22 going into the final six minutes.
Bell hit two free throws as the Hornets reached the double bonus at the start of the fourth quarter. Ryan Stafford’s driving layup answered for Cabot South and the Panthers had a chance to whittle the lead further after a Bryant turnover. But Hall blocked a shot by Jimmy Buckwalter and, at the other end, Cambron latched onto an offensive rebound and scored to make it a 9-point lead. Moments later, Bell hit a free throw to increase the lead to 10 for the first time with 4:19 to go.
Wilson and Bell traded baskets with Buckwalter and Vaught so it was 38-28 with 2:43 left to play.
The Panthers, who finished 11 of 26 from the free-throw line, missed a front end with 2:33 left. But Boatright rebounded and was fouled. He converted once to whittle the margin to 38-29.
Neale grabbed the rebound off the missed second shot and was fouled. But he was unable to get either shot to fall and Cabot’s sputtering comeback was under way on a layup by Vaught.
After two missed free throws on Bryant’s end (the Hornets wound up 12-of-22 from the line), Buckwalther hit two from the line after grabbing an offensive rebound. And the Hornets turned the ball over to give Cabot a chance to get closer. But over the next 30 seconds, the Panthers attempted six free throws and made just two which had them within 3 in the final minute of the game, seemingly with all the momentum, but not where they had hoped to be or could’ve been with better free-throw shooting.
Bell’s basket at the :39 mark seemed to blow up the Panthers’ hopes of a full comeback.
HORNETS 43, PANTHERS 38
Score by quarters
BRYANT 6 9 14 14 — 43
Cabot South 8 11 3 16 — 38
S.Davis 1-2 0-0 2, Wilson 2-5 0-0 4, Hall 1-5 2-2 4, Neale 3-7 2-5 8, Rayburn 0-2 0-0 0, Bell 4-9 6-10 15, Hewitt 2-2 0-2 4, J.Davis 0-2 0-0 0, Workman 1-2 0-1 2. Totals 15-40 12-22 43.
Vaught 5-9 5-12 15, Boatright 3-6 1-2 8, Buckwalter 2-6 3-8 7, Stafford 1-7 0-0 2, Ramirez 2-7 2-2 6, Hicks 0-1 0-0 0, Stroud 0-0 0-0 0, Weatherford 0-0 0-2 0, Jones 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 13-36 11-26 38.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 1-4 (Bell 1-2, Hall 0-1, Wilson 0-1), Cabot South 1-6 (Boatright 1-1, Ramirez 0-3, Buckwalter 0-1, Hicks 0-1). Rebounds: Bryant 36 (Neale 8, Hall 6), Cabot South 28 (Vaught 7). Turnovers: Bryant 13, Cabot South 15. Team fouls: Bryant 18, Cabot South 16. Fouled out: Cabot South, Stafford. Technical fouls: Bryant, scorebook.