Hornets hang on for first conference victory
EDITOR’S NOTE: Because the look back at each day in Bryant athletic history has been so favorably received during the time when there was no sports during the COVID-19 shutdown, BryantDaily.com will continueposting past stories of Bryant athletics either posted on BryantDaily.com (from 2009 to the present) or published in the Bryant Times (from 1998 to 2008).
Photos by Rick Nation and Kevin Nagle
The Bryant Hornets were long overdue for some good fortune.
On Tuesday night in a South Conference game against the Pine Bluff Zebras, the Hornets played some of their best basketball of the season for three quarters, building a whopping 17-point lead. But the Zebras, using a tough trapping defense, erased that margin, eventually pulling even 41-41 with 1:33 left in the game.
Running clock, the Hornets had been spreading the floor and, on the subsequent trip, senior C.J. Rainey found a seam and drove to the hoop only to be confronted by a couple of Pine Bluff’s considerably bigger guys at the rack. He missed the shot but somehow scrambled after the rebound.
The Hornets moved the ball around some more before senior Cedarrian Crosby was fouled with :46 left. Though he missed the first shot, he calmly nailed the second to give his team a 42-41 lead.
After calling a timeout with :40.5 showing, Pine Bluff worked the ball until the final seconds when Roosevelt Murray drove from the right wing and got within five feet. Murray, who led his team with 17 points and had been deadly off the dribble, got a contested shot away and missed. The Zebras managed two or three tips before Murray got it again, gathered himself but once more missed a contested shot. On the carom, the ball was tipped outside and time ran out as the Hornets held on for their first league victory, 42-41.
“Considering last year starting 0-4 in conference and digging out of a hole, getting that first one is huge,” said Hornets coach Mike Abrahamson as his team improved to 5-8 overall and 1-1 in league games. “I just hope it does some things for our confidence. We’re going to just keep trying to get better.”
The Hornets host Little Rock J.A. Fair this Friday.
Rainey finished with a game-high 20 points despite not scoring until midway through the secnd quarter. Crosby had 8, Romen Martin 5, Wesley Peters 4, Greyson Giles 3 and Kevin Hunt 2.
For Pine Bluff, J’Marlos Johnson added 7 and LaDarius Skelton 5.
The Z’s only led briefly in the first half. They were up 5-3 with 2:34 left in the first quarter but a driving hoop by Crosby tied it going into the second quarter. A free throw gave Pine Bluff a 6-5 lead but the Hornets closed the half with a 21-6 streak starting with a three-point play on another slashing move by Crosby. Martiin followed a Pine Bluff turnover with a 3 and, after Peters forced a held ball that returned possession to the Hornets, he scored inside to make it 13-6.
Murray drove for a hoop but Rainey stepped up with a triple to make it 16-8.
Again Murray scored with 2:22 left in the half but the Zebras didn’t score again until the closing minute. Rainey provided 8 straight points including a drive off a steal by Peters and his own theft and layup.
Jalon Pulliam banked in a 15-foot prayer with :38 left for Pine Bluff but Rainey pulled up for a jumper off a drive with :04 to go, giving Bryant a 26-12 lead at the half.
Asked about his team’s first half success, Abrahamson said, “Just execution in our defense in the half-court and also our offense, to stick with the plan. The second quarter, we were able to make some plays and pull away, get some easy baskets, a couple of steals.
“They’re just getting more comfortable with their role on offense and their role on defense,” he said of his players. “I thought we played some pretty sticky defense in the first half.”
The 10-4 run that ended the first half extended to a 22-10 surge as the third quarter unfolded. Pine Bluff’s John Tate scored the first basket of the half but, after both teams missed some chances, Giles came through with a three-point play after hauling down a defensive rebound at the other end.
William Gragg hit a pair of free throws but Hunt beat everybody back for a layup. Murray answered before Peters connected twice at the line and Raney drove for a bucket to make it 35-18.
Jumping into the trap, Pine Bluff began its rally, reeling off a 14-0 run to get within 35-32 with 5:29 left in the game. Two free throws by Rainey ended the Bryant drought. Murray drove for another deuce and, after Crosby hit a free throw, the Zebra guard connected on a 3 to make it 38-37.
The Hornets had been slowing it down and running clock when they beat the Pine Bluff press but, in answer to Murray’s 3, Rainey went coast to coast for a basket. Skelton missed two free throws with 3:08 to go but Johnson rebounded and score and the lead was just 1 again.
Rainey added a free throw and, after Marcus Thomas misfired on a 3-point try for the Zebras, Rainey went to the line only to miss the front end of the bonus. That led to Johnson’s game tying basket at 1:33 setting up the final dramatic scenario.
“We knew the pressure was coming and had a plan to beat it, things we’ve worked on a lot,” Abrahamson said. “You just can’t simulate those athletes, that length. We nearly gave it away but we didn’t.
“We had a 17-point lead and I think that’s the most talented team in our conference,” he added regarding Pine Bluff. “That lead really helped because we just barely held them off there at the end when they were really coming after us.
“I don’t think we’re going to come up against anybody with more length that does as good a job trapping as they do,” the coach continued. “Our size versus their size then you put two on one — those traps made it pretty hard to see. I think we did a better job of cutting to the ball but it’s just hard to see against that length. We tried to avoid the trap and we had a good stretch of doing that by getting rid of it before the trap came.
“It’s just things that we’ve worked on. I keep saying in these games we’ve been losing, this experience is going to make us stronger. You look at this the same way. You know, if we execute our stuff, it’s not that close at the end but that’s easier said than done.”