CONWAY — The Bryant Hornets had been there before.
On Jan. 12, they built a lead of more than 20 at Little Rock Central only to see the Tigers rally to beat them. On Jan. 19, it was the Hornets, who trailed by 13 with just over three minutes left at Cabot, only to come charging back to win 46-44.
So, when their lead of as much as 17 early in the fourth quarter, began to be whittled away and two starters including leading scorer Khalen Robinson fouled out, they knew they had to dig deep.
In the end, they made just enough plays to escape with a 62-59 win at Buzz Bolding Arena, knocking the Conway Wampus Cats out of a share for first place in the 7A-Central Conference.
With the Hornets struggling at the free-throw line and clinging to a 60-55 lead with :16.5 to play, senior Deron Canada hit two free throws to make it a 7-point lead.
Despite a pair of baskets at the end by Caleb London, Conway could not get all the way back.
“I think that’s what you call hanging on,” quipped Hornets coach Mike Abrahamson.
“It’s a huge win,” he asserted. ““I’m really proud of the resiliency, just hang in there and make just enough plays.
“Conway’s so good,” the coach related. “We played such a good first half and we had a strong third quarter. But we knew it was coming. We just had to withstand it.
“The foul situation really hurt us,” he noted. “Even with the free throws they got, if we make more of ours — we practice it all the time. I think it’s a mental thing. We’ve just got to get used to it in these situations a little bit more.”
There were a whopping 44 free throws shot in just the fourth quarter (69 for the game). The Hornets converted just 9 of 20 while Conway helped fuel its rally going 17 of 24 at the stripe.
Bryant started the game hot, popping 3’s. Camren Hunter, Robinson and Canada each knocked one down as Bryant built a 9-5 lead.
Conway tied it at 9 and 11 but never gained the upper hand. A three-point play by Canada in the final minute of the first quarter put the Hornets up 14-11 at the first break.
And the Hornets surged to start the second quarter. Robinson canned a 15-footer and, a little later, Ethan Hilkert hit a short jumper off a feed from Catrell Wallace, who had grabbed an offensive rebound.
Conway’s Terry Clardy missed the target on 3 but Robinson buried one for Bryant. Hunter hit two free throws after a steal by Wallace to make it 23-11 with 4:32 still to play in the half.
London, who matched Robinson’s 24 for high-point honors, hit a free throw but Canada canned a driving jumper, Hunter hit a. free throw and Bryant led 26-14.
The Wampus Cats struggled from the 3-point arc in the game but the only triple out of 19 attempts in the game, found the bottom of the net out of the hand of Lerome Thompson to make it 26-17 at the half.
“At halftime, I said, ‘We know what’s coming. We’ve been here before. We’ve got to handle it better this time,’” Abrahamson said. “And, for the most part, the pressure, I thought they handled okay.”
It didn’t materialize in the third quarter though Conway trimmed the margin to 7 early. London flushed an alley-oop pass after sneaking in behind the Bryant zone. A flurry of turnovers and missed shots followed until, with 3:44 left in the third, Sam Chumley hit a layup off a feed from Canada.
Kylen Milton, who scored 16 points in the game for Conway, knocked down a pair of free throws to make it a 7-point game again but Lambert scored inside after Chumley had snagged an offensive rebound.
After Clardy added a free throw, the Hornets surged again. Robinson hit a pair from the line then Lambert took a feed from Hunter and hit a layup. Two more free throws from Robinson extended the margin to 38-24.
Again Clardy hit one of his free throws but Robinson drained two more and Canada rained down a 3 to make it 43-25. A three-point play by Milton at the end of the quarter made it a 15-point game going into the final eight minutes.
But Conway more than doubled its score in the fourth. They never, however, gained the lead.
The advantage was 17, 46-29 with 5:53 left. And it could’ve been more had the Hornets made more than 1 of 4 free throws in the stretch leading to that point.
In a flurry, Conway trimmed the margin to 46-34. But, after a timeout, the Hornets extended the margin back to 14 on a layup by Robinson and free throws by Lambert.
Milton hit two free throws but Robinson hit a jumper in the lane.
By the 3:35 mark after another jumper in the lane by Robinson, the Hornets still held a double-digit lead at 52-39. But Lambert had just fouled out and, with 3:21 to go, so did Robinson.
The Cats cut it to 10 but Wallace hit a free throw. They cut it to 9 with 2:10 left but Chumley sliced to the basket for a layup behind the press.
Clardy hit two free throws and, after a quick five-second call on an inbounds play, Conway got it again and London converted a three-point play to make it 56-50.
Wallace added a free throw then, off a Conway miss, the Hornets rushed it up the floor and Canada, taking a feed from Hunter, slammed one home to make it 59-50 with 1:10 to play.
Every time Conway drove into the lane, there was a foul and they were able to continue to slice into the lead. London and Hunter traded free throws then Clardy hit two.
With :29.6 left, Hunter missed twice at the line and, seconds later, Clardy hit the offensive boards to make it 60-55. Both teams took timeouts — Bryant to save a turnover in the backcourt.
Canada converted twice at the line for the Hornets to make it 62-55 and, with :06 left, London’s tip-in made it a 5-point lead. Again, both teams took timeouts, then Canada, trying to get open for an inbounds pass, charged into one of the Wampus Cats. On the inbounds play, London scored again but the Hornets didn’t have to inbounds the ball with just a couple of seconds left and they held on for the win.
We got to the free-throw line a ton,” Abrahamson noted. “It just seemed like we were going 1 for 2, sometimes 0 for 2, then we go foul them and they go 2 for 2. So, with the clock stopped, seemingly forever, they’re gaining on us.
“We withstood a lot of adversity,” he asserted. “Catrell Wallace and Ethan Hilkert played a lot of minutes for us and kept us afloat.”
The Hornets will host Fort Smith Southside on Tuesday in a make-up game after the original was snowed out on Jan. 16. That will complete the first half of the conference season. Northside comes to Bryant on Friday, Feb. 2.
HORNETS 62, WAMPUS CATS 59
Score by quarters
BRYANT 14 12 17 19 — 62
Conway 11 6 11 31 — 59
HORNETS (12-7, 3-3) 62
Hunter 1-7 4-8 7, Robinson 8-10 6-6 24, Chumley 2-6 4-6 8, Lambert 2-5 0-2 4, Canada 5-11 3-6 15, Wallace 0-1 2-4 2, Hilkert 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 19-41 (46%) 19-32 (59%) 62.
WAMPUS CATS (13-6, 4-2) 59
Thompson 1-7 0-0 3, London 8-17 8-15 24, Lowe 0-6 0-0 0, Bradshaw 2-3 0-0 4, Clardy 3-10 6-8 12, Williams 0-3 0-0 0, Ashby 0-0 0-0 0, Milton 3-3 10-14 16, Kaiser 0-0 0-0 0, Fulton 0-1 0-0 0, Drake 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 17-52 (33%) 24-37 (65%) 59.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 5-14 (Canada 2-5, Robinson 2-2, Hunter 1-3, Chumley 0-3, Lambert 0-1), Conway 1-19 (Thompson 1-3, London 0-6, Lowe 0-3, Clardy 0-2, Williams 0-2, Drake 0-2, Kaiser 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 18, Conway 14. Rebounds: Bryant 16-22 38 (Chumley 4-3 7, Canada 2-5 7, Robinson 0-6 6, Wallace 3-3 6, Lambert 1-3 4, Hunter 2-1 3, team 4-1 5), Conway 17-17 34 (London 7-2 9, Clardy 4-5 9, Thompson 1-3 4, Milton 2-2 4, Lowe 0-2 2, Bradshaw 0-2 2, Williams 1-0 1, team 2-1 3). Team fouls: Bryant 24, Conway 25. Fouled out: Bryant, Lambert, Robinson; Conway, Milton. Technical foul: Conway bench.