Photos by Rick Nation
Observation No. 1:
The Bryant Hornets came a long way between their 0-3 start to this season and the opening of the conference slate in January. And they’ve come further since the 60-38 thumping they absorbed at Van Buren in their second league contest on Jan. 16.
Observation No. 2:
While 6-10 junior Mitchell Smith is a star — he scored 27 on the Hornets in that first meeting — the Pointers are pretty darn good without him.
Observation No. 3:
All things being fairly equal, a good team of juniors and seniors tends to handle pressure and adversity with more aplomb than a good team of sophomores and juniors. Experience matters.
Observation No. 4:
It’s easier to play with a lead.
If the Bryant Hornets could’ve ever gotten ahead against the Van Buren Pointers in their rematch at the Hornets Nest Friday night, they might’ve been able to pull off a victory over the league-leading Pointers, who came into the game ranked eighth in the state.
Bryant trailed just 47-46 with 1:30 left to play but the Pointers converted 11 of 12 free throws after that to hang on for a 58-52 victory that was a one-possession game as late as the 25-second mark.
Going into the fourth quarter, Smith had just 2 points in the game due in large part to being on the pine with foul trouble. The Hornets did a good job of frustrating him with their defense and a couple of the four fouls he eventually wound up with were called as he was trying to clear space inside.
One of those was his second, with about three minutes left in the first quarter. Bryant led 3-2 at the time but was unable to make hay while the big cat (er, dog? Pointer?) was away. At least, not as much as they might’ve hoped.
With Smith out, Jason Harms hit a 3 to put Van Buren ahead and the Pointers, though they never led by a lot, never fell behind in the half, which ended 26-24.
Observation No. 5 (by Bryant coach Mike Abrahamson):
“To me, the game comes down to this: We make a few more shots the first half, make a few more free throws; we give up a few less offensive rebounds — it’s not just one thing. It’s a lot of things we could’ve done just a little bit better and we might’ve been able to pull that one out.
“Give them credit,” he added. “They made their free throws down the stretch and they stepped up when their big was out of the game. But I do think our kids played really hard and what I hope they take away from this is just how good we can possibly be if we get just a little bit better in a lot of areas. We’re still progressing. I’m proud of the effort.”
Smith came back to hit a pair of key baskets and knock down four vital free throws in the final quarter to help his team thwart the surging Hornets. But it was point guard Jaylyn Dye who stepped up. Usually reluctant to shoot, Dye scored 18 points in the game.
(He is the same Jaylyn Dye that led the Central Conference in pass receiving last fall with a whopping 61 receptions for 1,185 yards and 11 touchdowns.)
Hayden Salisbury scored 9 off the bench for the Pointers. Rustin Hawkins, a 6-4 junior, scored 6 but also had eight rebounds, five on the offensive end.
Sophomore Romen Martin knocked down four 3’s in the game on his way to a team-high 16 points. Wesley Akers, the team’s lone senior, hit a trio of treys on his way to 15 points. Junior Kevin Hunt added 10.
“I thought we had a pretty good plan,” Abrahamson related. “I thought our kids were doing a great job of executing that plan. When the big kid got into foul trouble and came out, their other kids really stepped up. (Hawkins) really stepped up. He didn’t let us block him out and he got some putbacks. And they hit a shot or two.
“We couldn’t capitalize,” he acknowledged. “We had another rough first quarter scoring. I thought we got good looks. We couldn’t put any down.”
In fact, Martin’s first 3 provided the only points for the Hornets in the first quarter. They were 1 of 11 from the field and missed a couple of free throws. Van Buren managed a 9-3 lead going into the second stanza.
“We’re trying to get our guys to understand the moments in the game when we need a good offensive possession,” Abrahamson said. “We need to change sides of the floor, maybe go in and out, side to side. People just need to touch it. We don’t need to hold it for a minute and a half but we got away from that and it hurt us because they ended up getting a couple of scores in transition.
“But, on the whole, I have a lot of confidence in our kids,” he asserted. “When they shoot it, I think it’s going in. They’ve earned that. I think we’re playing well. We’re getting the shots that we want to get for the most part. And defensively, they played hard.”
It was 11-4 early in the second quarter when Lowell Washington scored inside and Martin drained another troika off an assist by Hunt. Suddenly, it was 11-9.
After a timeout, however, the Pointers put together an 8-2 surge.
Bryant countered, sparked by Peters. He hit a 3 at the 4:06 mark and made a steal that led to a pair of free throws. Then, after Hawkins came up empty at the line, Peters knocked down his second trey, tyin the game at 19.
Salisbury snapped the tie with two at the stripe but Marvin Moody’s baseline jumper off a dish from Calvin Allen knotted it again. Dye drove for a bucket but Hunt delivered at the free throw line and it was 23-23 headed into the final minute of the half.
Salisbury’s 3 put Van Buren back on top. An 8-3 start to the second half capped by Smith’s first basket of the game at the 5:18 mark of the third quarter, produced a 7-point advantage for the Pointers.
Bryant countered, sparked by Martin’s second 3 of the quarter. Hunt’s triple at the 2:37 mark had the Hornets back within a point. They had two chances to take the lead but couldn’t get a shot to fall.
Dye scored off the offensive glass then so did Peters. Smith was then called for an offensive foul, his third, giving Bryant another chance to gain the upper hand but Jordan Barlow made a steal that led to a layup for Dye and a 38-35 score going into the final eight minutes.
Dye made a steal to start the final period. But the Hornets yanked the momentum away with Martin got back to block Dye’s layup. Antavious Lewis rebounded and got it to Allen. He attacked the rim despite the presence of Smith. With an acrobatic shot, Allen scored and drew Smith’s fourth foul.
Though Allen missed completing the three-point play, Smith was back on the sideline and the lead was once again just one. But Dye drove for a basket to keep his team in control.
The Hornets battled on their next trip up the floor. Hunt missed a 3 but Allen chased down the carom and got it back to him in nearly the same spot. He used a pump fake to get free but his second try at the triple rimmed out. Lewis rebounded and couldn’t convert. Hunt soared in for the rebound and was fouled on his next shot.
He converted once and it was 40-38. Moments later, Martin made a steal and Allen went to the line and tied it with 5:07 left.
Again, however, Dye stepped up with a three-point play off a feed from Hawkins. In turn, Martin missed but Washington and Peters combined to force a turnover. Allen attacked the rack again but, this time, his shot was rejected by Hawkins.
With 3:43 left, Van Buren took a timeout and got Smith back in the game. The Pointers set him up for baskets on the next two trips and the lead ballooned to 47-40 with two minutes left.
Peters kept the Hornets close with a 3. And when Martin was fouled on a 3-point try. He converted all three and it was 47-46 with 1:30 to go.
And it looked like Hunt had a steal in a trap on Smith near the left boundary but he was cited for a foul. Smith converted twice, starting the Pointers’ parade to the line.
It was 51-46 going into the final minute. Hunt drove for a basket and Abrahamson took a timeout. Barlow converted free throws at the :42.5 mark. Lewis knocked down a pair at the other end.
The Hornets couldn’t make up ground. Salisbury and Peters traded free throws and it was 55-52 with :26.7 left. And when Dye sank one of two from the line, Martin tried to get a 3 to go and it rimmed out. Harms tacked on the clinching free throws with :08.4 left.
Bryant, which clinched a State bid on Tuesday, had a chance to pull even with Van Buren for the top seed slot with a win. As it stands, Van Buren remains unbeaten in 7A conference games. The Hornets are 3-2 with one 7A opponent left, Conway, at home on Feb. 24.
In the meantime, they’ll travel to Russellville on Tuesday, Feb. 17, then host Alma on Friday, Feb. 20, league games against 6A schools, which don’t count towards qualifying for State.
POINTERS 58, HORNETS 52
Score by quarters
Van Buren 9 17 12 20 — 58
BRYANT 3 21 11 27 — 52
POINTERS (18-6, 9-1, 5-0) 58
Dye 8-18 2-3 18, Harms 2-6 2-3 7, Barlow 0-2 4-4 4, Smith 3-5 4-4 10, Hawkins 3-5 0-2 6, Beckner 2-4 0-0 4, Salisbury 2-3 4-5 9, Thomas 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-44 (45%) 16-21 (76%) 58.
HORNETS (12-11, 6-4, 3-2) 52
C.Allen 1-4 2-3 4, Peters 4-6 4-4 15, Lewis 0-2 2-2 2, Martin 4-14 4-5 16, Moody 1-2 1-2 3, Washington 1-4 0-2 2, Hunt 2-10 5-8 10, Walker 0-0 0-0 0, Sahr 0-0 0-0 0, Turner 0-0 0-0 0, Ingold 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 13-42 (31%) 18-26 (69%) 52.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 8-23 (Martin 4-11, Peters 3-4, Hunt 1-6, C.Allen 0-1, Washington 0-1), Van Buren 2-8 (Harms 1-4, Salisbury 1-1, Dye 0-1, Barlow 0-1, Thomas 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 14, Van Buren 12. Rebounds: Bryant 11-14 25 (C.Allen 3-2 5, Lewis 2-2 4, Washington 1-3 4, Hunt 1-3 4, Peters 2-0 2, Moody 1-1 2, Martin 0-1 1, Sahr 0-1 1, team 1-1 2), Van Buren 12-19 31 (Hawkins 5-3 8, Dye 3-3 6, Smith 1-4 5, Beckner 0-4 4, Barlow 0-3 3, Salisbury 1-0 1, team 2-2 4). Team fouls: Bryant 20, Van Buren 21. Fouled out: Van Buren, Barlow; Bryant, Hunt.