RUSSELLVILLE — Coming into Thursday night’s 7A/6A-Central Conference game, the Bryant Hornets were 12-12 overall and 6-5 in league play.
So were the Russellville Cyclones.
The teams were playing for the third time. Bryant won in December on a neutral court in Fort Smith, 59-53. Russellville won in January at Bryant, 70-57.
So it figured that the rubber match at the Cyclones’ gym would be a doozy.
In the end, the Hornets escaped with a 53-49 win.
And there was a little controversy thrown in for fun.
With 2:29 to play, Russellville’s Co-Cheese Temple-Laws, after not scoring the rest of the game, came through with a three-point play that had his team within 48-47.
Bryant coach Mike Abrahamson took a timeout between the basket and the free throw and, when play resumed, his team spread the floor and started working the clock against the Cyclones’ trapping full-court defense.
They milked the clock down to 1:31. That’s when senior Wesley Peters found himself open at the elbow with a 2-on-1. He drove on the Cyclones’ big K.J. Patrick and dished to teammate Lowell Washington for a basket that made it 50-47.
With 1:09 left, Russellville got a break. Tony Jones, who was 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the game, had a 3-ball contested by Bryant’s Kevin Hunt. The shot missed but, on a delayed call, Hunt was whistled for his fourth foul.
Jones, one of the Cyclones seniors playing his last home game, had been 1 of 4 from the free-throw line up to that point. Now he had a chance to tie the game with three free throws. He got the first two to fall but missed the third and Washington pulled down one of his nine rebounds.
Frantically trapping, Russellville got three guys around Bryant point guard Calvin Allen on the sideline near the Bryant bench. Abrahamson called his last timeout to prevent the turnover with :48.9 showing.
When play resumed, Temple-Laws made a steal only to have Hunt block his layup attempt. In a scramble for the rebound in which two or three bodies wound up on the floor, the ball trickled out of bounds last touched by Russellville.
The Cyclones committed their sixth foul with :37 left meaning the Hornets would be in the bonus the rest of the way. On the inbounds play, Russellville senior Andy Campbell made a steal but Hunt swiped the ball back on a pass upcourt.
With :18.9 showing, Calvin Allen was fouled. He converted once to make it 51-49.
Russellville got the ball upcourt and head coach Cody Mann called a timeout with :13.5 to go, setting up a play for a tying or go-ahead basket.
Abrahamson subbed in junior Antavious Lewis for defense, aimed at denying Campbell the ball. The Cyclones’ senior had scored 22 points including 4 of 8 on 3’s.
Lewis, with help from his teammates, kept the ball out of Campbell’s hands to Patrick, the big 6-5 post, wound up taking the 3. It rimmed out. Hunt rebounded and whipped the ball to the other end of the court where Washington was ahead of the pack for a buzzer-beating dunk that punctuated the win.
It was game one of a three-games-in-three-nights junket for both teams. But, while Russellville will be playing at Van Buren on Friday and at home against Little Rock Catholic on Saturday, Bryant is headed all the way to Siloam Springs today then returns to host Conway on Saturday for the rights to the No. 2 seed from the Central Conference to the Class 7A State Tournament, which commences at Springdale Har-Ber on Wednesday, March 4.
Washington led the Hornets with 14 points. Romen Martin added 10, Hunt 9 and Peters 8. Ricky Allen came off the bench for 5.
Campbell was the only Cyclone in double digits. At Bryant, he pumped in 20 and Patrick had 28. But this time, Patrick was held to just 5 against Bryant’s changing defenses. Washington, Lewis, and Marvin Moody each had a turn at guarding Patrick.
The Hornets hadn’t had a normal practice, if at all, since Tuesday due to the snow and ice and, according to Abrahamson, hadn’t practiced on consecutive days in about two weeks.
“I was pleased,” he said of Thursday’s performance. “We made just enough plays to win. We showed a lot of toughness tonight, I thought. They all stepped up.
“I think we probably tried to do too much against them last time to try to take away (Campbell) but also make the other guys uncomfortable,” he mentioned. “That was probably too much for our kids to handle.
“Tonight, it was initially just take them out of attack mode,” the coach explained. “They’re really good when they’re in attack mode. They’re going in and out, kicking out for 3’s. And (Campbell) hit four 3’s in the first half. He was a lot to deal with. We did a better job in the second half. We denied him but we didn’t do anything special on anyone else to complicate it. We switched defenses in the first half to kind of take them out of that attack mode, try to get them on their heels a little bit.”
As for the controversy. Bryant led 35-28 early in the third quarter. Peters and Martin had just worked a nice give and go. At the other end, Jones followed his own miss to make it 35-30.
But the official scorer gave the basket to Bryant’s number 20, Dagin Carden instead of Jones and, at the end of the quarter, what should have been a 42-33 lead for Bryant was 44-31.
Carden, a junior reserve for the Hornets, did not play in the game.
Russellville’s coaches protested, even to the extent of checking Bryant’s book, which was being kept by trainer Christa Finney. She had the score 42-33 as did another Bryant scoresheet at the table.
But the officials’ only recourse was to have the official scorekeeper check her addition and it added up to 44-31. And that was the score starting the fourth quarter.
So, on the face of it, the score at the end of regulation should’ve been 51-51.
Of course, had the score been corrected, there’s no telling if the game would’ve played out the same way. Bryant spent much of the fourth quarter playing keep-away after Russellville rallied.
The Cyclones got it to 44-39 but Hunt hit an 8-footer. John Boles hit a 3 and Kentrel Scott followed his own miss with 3:15 to go, cutting the margin to 46-44.
The Hornets whittled the clock until Peters found a gap to the rack and scored at 2:42. That’s when Temple-Laws cut it to 1 with his three-point play.
To their credit, Mann started four senior reserves and a sophomore that played little for the varsity during the season. Bryant took advantage to build a 9-3 lead on a pair of 3’s by Martin and another by Lewis before the Cyclones’ regular starters came into the game.
The Hornets maintained the advantage, though. They held a 15-11 lead at the quarter off a layup by Washington off a dish from Calvin Allen.
Russellville cut it to 2 and a barrage by Campbell (5 for 5 from the field including three triples) kept it close. Still, the Hornets pushed the margin to 10 on baskets by Washington and Hunt, two free throws from Martin and a trey by Ricky Allen.
At the half, though, the margin was 33-28.
Bryant outscored the Cyclones’ regulars 9-3 to start the second half, though it counted as an 11-1 surge.
“We’ve never won here since I’ve been the coach, at least against Russellville,” Abrahamson said. “We won in their tournament but never against them, and never really played well in here. I think highly of their team and their program and their coach. I have the utmost respect for him, as much as anybody.”
Abrahamson acknowledged that, if the officials had checked with his team’s book, he would’ve shared it with them. The Russellville assistant wanted to take a picture of it after the game but once Abrahamson got it from Finney, no one asked him for it. He related that if Mann had asked for it, he would’ve given it to him as well. Of course, once the game resumed after the appeal to the officials — and certainly after the game — it was too late for a change it.
As exciting and hotly contested as it was, the game has no bearing on the post-season position of either team. Playing a 6A team, the game didn’t count towards Bryant’s State qualifying. Playing a 7A team, the game didn’t count towards Russellville’s State qualifying.
Such is the nature of the Arkansas Activity Association’s set up of mixed conferences in 2015 and 2016.
HORNETS 53, CYLCONES 49
Score by quarters
BRYANT 15 18 11(9) 9 — 53(51)
Russellville 11 17 3(5) 18 — 49(51)
HORNETS (13-12, 7-5) 53
C.Allen 0-3 2-4 2, Peters 4-5 0-0 8, Lewis 1-3 0-4 3, Martin 3-7 2-2 10, Washington 7-9 0-0 14, Hunt 4-11 1-2 9, McIntosh 0-1 0-0 0, R.Allen 2-2 0-0 5, Moody 0-4 0-0 0, Steen 0-0 0-0 0, Ingold 0-0 0-0 0, Turner 0-0 0-0 0 (Carden 1-1 0-0 2). Totals: 22-46 (48%) 5-12 (42%) 53.
CYCLONES (12-13, 6-6) 49
Stiger 0-1 0-0 0, Crowder 0-0 0-0 0, Jedlicka 0-0 0-0 0, Strickland 1-2 0-0 3, Reed 0-1 0-0 0, Campbell 9-15 0-0 22, Temple-Laws 1-5 1-1 3, Jones 1-11 (2-12) 3-7 6 (8), Patrick 2-6 1-2 5, Scott 1-2 1-1 3, Boles 2-3 2-2 7, McKown 0-2 0-0 0, Baty 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 17-48 (35%) 8-14 (57%) 49.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 4-10 (Martin 2-6, Lewis 1-1, R.Allen 1-1, Peters 0-1, Hunt 0-1), Russellville 7-22 (Campbell 4-8, Jones 1-9, Strickland 1-1, Boles 1-1, Stiger 0-1, Reed 0-1, Patrick 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 13, Russellville 8. Rebounds: Bryant 10-26 36 (Washington 3-6 9, Peters 1-6 7, Martin 0-4 4, Moody 2-2 4, C.Allen 1-2 3, Hunt 2-1 3, Ingold 0-1 1, team 1-4 5), Russellville 6-19 25 (Patrick 1-8 9, Campbell 1-4 5, Scott 1-2 3, McKown 0-2 2, Crowder 0-1 1, Strickland 0-1 1, Jones 1-0 1, Baty 0-1 1, team 2-0 2). Team fouls: Bryant 11, Russellville 17.