ALMA — Sometimes growing pains can be excruciating.
The Bryant Hornets played one senior and seven sophomores among the 10 that got into Friday night’s game at Alma’s basketball palace, the Charles B. Dyer Arena. It’s been that way this year. The sophomores are getting on-the-job training.
Head coach Mike Abrahamson talks about “the process” and he’s referring to the things his young players are learning as the season develops.
Friday was a hard lesson.
After trailing Alma by as much as 10 in the first half, the Hornets a 17-3 spurt including an 11-0 run to start the second half. They had the Airedales, who came into the game with a gaudy 14-2 record, on the run. Bryant led by as much as 10 in the third quarter and led 45-38 with under four minutes to go in the intensely contested game.
Even after a wild series of events that helped narrow the game, the Hornets were clinging to a 45-44 edge, shooting a one-and-one with :57.2 to go. But senior Wesley Peters missed the front end and, with :42 to go, Alma’s Nathan Corder hit his only field goal of the game, a 3-pointer that gave his team its first lead of the second half.
Fittingly, the Airedales sealed a 51-47 win at the free-throw line with Austin Lee converting four times in the final 10 seconds, clinching it with :03.6 showing.
“It’s painful,” acknowledged Abrahamson.
Part of what was hard to swallow was the fact that Alma shot 32 free throws as Bryant was cited for 27 team fouls (and a technical) while the Hornets attempted just seven free throws as Alma was called for 14 team fouls.
“That’s the difference,” acknowledged the Bryant coach. “They made 19 and we made 3. There’s a 16-point differential there and they win by 4. That’s obviously the story.
“We keep five stats, in-game,” Abrahamson related. “What’s the other team’s field goal percentage? Our stat guy, Carl, had them for 34 (percent). We’re trying to keep them under 35 so we’re really happy with that. We try to out-rebound our opponent by 10. We were plus-three. That’s not our goal but we’re not on the negative side. We try to have 10 or fewer turnovers. We had 11. We’re right there on that goal. We try to get 28 deflections, which are steals, tips, get a loose ball, take a charge. We got right at 28.
“When we meet two goals and we’re close on two more, that usually means we win,” he observed. “That means that we played well. The difference was the other stat, the free throws. We were being aggressive. They were being aggressive. But that’s the way it goes.”
With 3:30 to go, the Hornets held a 45-38 lead. Alma’s Alex Beneux was at the free-throw line and missed the front end. There was a held ball for possession and it was the Airedales’ turn. With 3:21 left, Beneux drains a 3, cutting the margin to 45-41.
The Hornets suffered a turnover and point guard Braylon Parker head to the other end with Bryant’s Romen Martin in pursuit. Parker went up for the layup, Martin went up for a block. There was contact and Parker wound up hitting the padding at the base of the stanchion.
As Alma folks (Security? School officials? Parents?) rushed onto the floor, Martin was called for a flagrant foul, which would put Parker at the line and give Alma the ball after his shots.
But back up the floor, near mid-court, another of the Hornets’ sophomores took exception to something an Alma player said and gave him a push. He was given a technical foul.
When the dust settled, Parker hit one free throw then Austin Lee, shooting the technical free throws, made one of two. On the subsequent possession, Alma’s Jake Folkerts was fouled. He too made one of his two shots.
Because the trio converted only half of the free throw opportunities, Bryant still held a 45-44 lead. But the game was up for grabs.
At that point, Bryant had been cited for 12 fouls, Alma three in the second half. So Abrahamson had his team spread the floor and run the clock. Alma was forced to foul to get the Hornets into the bonus.
A miss off a drive by Peters gave the Airedales a chance to take the lead but Parker’s 3-point try refused to fall. Bryant milked it down to :57.2 before Alma finally committed the seventh foul, sending Peters to the line.
Trailing 49-45, Peters would give Bryant some hope when he drove for a layup with :05 to go. Abrahamson got a timeout with :04.7 left and there was hope for his team which had come close a handful of times to forcing a five-second count on Alma inbounds plays.
But they got it in to Lee who was fouled.
“To get our young team to play a certain way sometimes we need to kind of overdo things, over-emphasize things, almost go to extremes at times,” Abrahamson explained. “And I’m willing to do that and our guys are responding. I thought we played very tough and very physical tonight, with passion. Now, because sometimes we have to go to extremes to get them to play that way, we also crossed the line a couple of times tonight.
“The intentional foul by Romen — we actually had to cover the other day how to aggressively foul,” he continued. “We gave up so many ‘and-ones’ to Russellville (Tuesday, in a 70-57 home loss) — and that’s a mark of a soft team. So, Romen’s not trying to hurt the kid. He’s trying to do what he’s taught to do. And he hit the ball. The referee said that didn’t matter. He swung right through the player. He’s trying to make a play for our team and not give up on the game.
“Now, the technical foul was crossing the line,” the coach allowed. “That’s a learning moment. That’s part of the process with our team that is a reality. It’s immaturity. Marvin’s a really good kid and he’s doing some really good things for us. He crossed the line in that moment and it’s a teachable moment for our whole team, not just him. And that’s probably a by-product of trying to get these kids to be physical and play with an edge, with a chip on their shoulder, because that’s how we’re going to be successful.
“We were so soft, I thought against Russellville; so finesse and so non-aggressive,” he reiterated. “So, by and large, I’m really proud of our team for playing so hard and so physical and giving so much effort. We battled back and we kind of cost ourselves the game. But we gave ourselves a chance to win too. We understand that.
“But I’m proud of the effort. We’re going to learn from these teachable moments and understand this is just part of the process. It’s going to toughen us. Those kids are upset in that locker room and that’s a good thing because they really care about what they’re doing.”
Junior Kevin Hunt led all scorers with 19 points. Martin added 14, Calvin Allen 5. The Hornets got a lift from two other sophomores.
“Garrett Cowart and Kyle Sahr have not contributed that much this year just because they weren’t ready,” Abrahamson noted. “But, to their credit, they have really hung in there and worked hard and continued to progress. Both of them brought us some really good play off the bench tonight. That’s really encouraging. We’re really developing depth. Lowell (Washington) was home sick. We needed those guys to step up and they did, along with the other guys that normally play as well.”
Alma led 14-8 at the end of the first quarter and built the margin to 20-10 as the Hornets were called for 14 fouls. Five players had to sit with two fouls including three starters.
But Abrahamson brought two of those guys back after a timeout and they had an immediate impact and Hunt then Martin canned 3’s. The Hornets trailed 22-20 going into the final 30 seconds of the half and Alma had a chance to add on. But Hunt made a steal and, though he missed his contested layup, Cowart had hustled back, rebounded and dished quickly back to Hunt who scored to tie the game.
The Airedales managed a halftime lead of 24-22 thanks to a driving layup by William Cluck.
But the momentum stayed with the Hornets as the second half unfolded. Martin knocked down a 3 and, after a free throw by Antavious Lewis, Hunt got a tip-in. Allen popped a triple then made a steal that got Hunt to the line where he capped the 11-0 burst with two free throws, making it 33-24.
Beneux hit a 3 for Alma’s first basket of the second half at the 4:13 mark. Hunt drove for a basket in response and, after Sahr blocked a shot on one end, he hit a layup off a dish from Martin to give Bryant a 37-27 lead with 2:13 left in the third quarter.
The margin was down to 39-34 by the end of the quarter.
With 5:07 left, Hunt’s driving jumper made it 43-35. Lee drained a trey but Lewis knocked down a baseline jumper that had Bryant up by 7.
The Hornets play at Conway on Tuesday as 7A/6A-Central Conference play continues with a crucial Class 7A clash.
AIREDALES 51, HORNETS 47
Score by quarters
BRYANT 8 14 17 8 — 47
Alma 14 10 10 17 — 51
HORNETS (8-10, 2-3) 47
C.Allen 2-3 0-0 5, Lewis 1-2 1-2 3, Hunt 8-17 2-2 19, Martin 5-12 0-0 14, Moody 0-3 0-0 0, Sahr 1-3 0-0 2, Peters 2-5 0-3 4, Cowart 0-0 0-0 0, Turner 0-2 0-0 0, R.Allen 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 19-48 (40%) 3-7 (43%) 47.
AIREDALES (15-2, 4-1) 51
Friddle 0-2 0-0 0, Folkerts 2-6 4-8 8, Parker 1-3 6-8 8, Beneux 3-5 2-2 11, Lee 2-12 6-8 11, Cluck 4-9 1-6 10, Dyer 0-0 0-0 0, Corder 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 13-39 (33%) 19-32 (59%) 51.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 6-19 (Martin 4-8, Hunt 1-2, C.Allen 1-1, Peters 0-2, Turner 0-2, Lewis 0-1, Moody 0-1, R.Allen 0-1), Alma 6-17 (Beneux 3-4, Lee 1-7, Cluck 1-2, Corder 1-2, Friddle 0-1, Parker 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 10, Alma 13. Rebounds: Bryant 6-23 29 (Moody 2-4 6, Hunt 1-3 4, Martin 1-3 4, Peters 0-4 4, Coward 1-2 3, Sahr 0-2 2, C.Allen 0-2 2, Lewis 0-1 1, team 1-2 3), Alma 8-24 32 (Cluck 1-6 7, Folkerts 2-4 6, Parker 0-5 5, Beneux 0-3 3, Lee 0-2 2, Corder 0-1 1, Friddle 0-1 1, team 5-3 8). Team fouls: Bryant 28, Alma 14. Fouled out: Bryant, Sahr, Martin. Technical fouls: Bryant, Moody.