By Rob Patrick
TEXARKANA, Texas — When Kevin Paxton hit the Texas High Tigers’ fifth 3-point of the first[more] half with 5:27 left in the second quarter, it put his team ahead of the Bryant Hornets, 30-21. But before the half was over, the Hornets had pulled even then into the lead, 38-36. Though the Tigers would draw even twice in the second half, the Hornets never trailed again on the way to a 73-69 win in a corker of a game at the Tiger Center.
Bryant’s trio of C.J. Rainey, K.J. Hill and Greyson Giles combined for 60 points to lead the Hornets who shot 55 percent from the field (24-of-44) and 76 percent at the line as they improved to 9-1 on the season.
“Texas High came out on fire, hitting everything they put up, banked in a 3,” noted Hornets coach Mike Abrahamson. “Things were going against us. I didn’t think we were playing bad on offense. We just couldn’t stop them. There were times later in the game, it didn’t matter what we did we couldn’t stop them.
“We gave up over 60 points,” he emphasized. “That would typically make me sick to my stomach. But they’re really good. They’re hard to keep off the boards. We were able to score a lot tonight, which really helped, and just get enough stops.
“That is a quality win — on the road in another state and a good team, very athletic,” the coach stated. “So I’m really proud of my guys.”
The Hornets led by 10 in the fourth quarter, 68-58, before Texas High made one last charge, trimming the margin to 3, 70-67, with 1:10 left to play. But Giles and Rainey hit clutch free throws in the final minute. In between, the Tigers missed four shots over two possessions trying to cut into a 4-point margin.
Paxton, who led his team with 16 points off the bench, hit a 3 to start the scoring in the fourth quarter. It evened the score at 56. But Rainey drove for a basket and, after a Tigers miss, Hill drilled a 3.
Spencer Stewart got free for a basket inside for Texas High but another drive by Rainey countered and, after the Tigers missed a 3-point try, Rainey got one to splash for a 66-58 lead that forced a timeout.
Texas High missed two chances to cut into that margin so, when Rainey converted two free throws with 4:35 left, the Bryant lead was 10.
The Hornets spread the floor on offense but could only add a pair of free throws by Brian Reed, who was pressed into extensive playing time with the absence of senior Zach Cambron (deep thigh bruise) inside. Reed finished with 4 points and matched the game-high with nine rebounds.
With 2:41 left, Success Blevins (yes, Success) was fouled on a 3-point try and converted all three free throws to make it 70-65. It stayed that way until Daryon Grant hit a jump hook for the Tigers that had them within 70-67.
The Hornets had to use a pair of timeouts over the next few seconds; first, when they couldn’t get the ball inbounded against the Texas High press then another when Rainey was trapped in front of the Bryant bench.
But, with :50.2 left, Giles hit a free throw to make it a two-possession game. For some reason, however, the Tigers seemed intent on trying to get a 3 to go. Three of their four misses over the next 40 seconds came from long range. After the final miss, Rainey rebounded and was fouled with :10.4 showing. He dropped both charity tosses to seal the victory.
Hill had 6 points in the first three minutes of the game as the Hornets took an 8-5 lead. Texas High surged to a 9-8 edge then Bryant’s Tyler Simmons drained a trey as the lead seesawed for a while.
Blevins got a 3 to go with :36 left in the period to make it 19-15 before Rainey hit two free throws to make it a 2-point game going into the second quarter.
An 11-4 run at that point, produced the Tigers’ largest lead of 9. Reed started Bryant’s comeback with a pair of free throws. Simmons dropped a high-arching jumper on the fly and Luke Rayburn flushed a triple as the Hornets pulled within 30-28.
After a timeout, the Tigers extended the margin to 36-30 only to have the Hornets close out the half with an 8-0 run. Rainey hit a 3, Hill drove for a bucket, Giles made a steal and converted a free throw to tie it. After Reed blocked a shot by Texas High’s Chris Hart, Rainey drove into the lane and hit a jumper to put the Hornets ahead at the break.
That run extended to 17-2 as the third quarter got going. A three-point play by Giles who posted up and scored got the second half started. Darian Kidd interrupted with a drive but Giles attacked the rack for a basket and, after a Tigers turnover, Hill hit a layup. Giles made another steal and cashed in with a layup to make it 47-38.
The Hornets executed defensively with Abrahamson augmenting a match-up zone with a 1-3-1 with Giles at the top.
“We did go to a 1-3-1 but the majority of it was just a match-up,” the coach acknowledged. “We haven’t done that a lot this year. We did it a lot last year. They just responded and it was working. I was kind of surprised that we did so well in it because we haven’t worked on it that much this year. That’s just one of the many things I’m proud of, one of the many little parts of this game that makes me really proud of the team.”
Texas High rallied, though, sparked by a 3 from Jamal Ray and a quick 7-point spree by Grant that pulled the Tigers even at 49.
A free throw by Rainey and a 3 by hill, however, kept the Hornets ahead. Ray converted twice at the line and Giles answered with a slice to the rim. Rayburn then took a charge as Grant was trying to make a move inside.
The Hornets’ lead was 56-53 going into the fourth quarter.
Incidentally, Texas High's head coach is former Arkansas Razorbacks punter Jacob Skinner.
Now 9-1 on the season, Bryant takes off a few days for Christmas. The Hornets return to action at the Coke Classic in Fort Smith on Thursday, Dec. 27, at 4:15 p.m., against former Central Conference rival North Little Rock. In the second round, they could face Texas High again. The Tigers open against Fort Smith Northside.
HORNETS 73, TIGERS 69
Score by quarters
BRYANT 17 21 18 17 — 73
Texas High 19 17 17 16 — 69
HORNETS (9-1) 73
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Hill 8-15 1-2 1-5 6 3 19
Rainey 7-8 8-10 0-1 1 1 24
Simmons 2-4 0-0 1-0 1 0 5
Giles 6-14 5-7 2-2 4 4 17
Reed 0-1 4-4 1-8 9 1 4
Rayburn 1-2 1-2 0-3 3 1 4
Davis 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 0
Team 2-1 3
Totals 24-44 19-25 7-20 27 11 73
TIGERS (6-7) 69
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Kidd 3-9 0-0 1-3 4 3 7
Hart 2-10 1-2 1-1 2 3 7
Ray 2-5 3-4 2-7 9 2 8
Blevins 3-10 6-6 1-2 3 3 14
Grant 7-11 0-0 1-0 1 4 15
Paxton 7-9 0-0 3-2 5 0 16
Stoker 0-1 0-0 0-1 1 1 0
Stewart 1-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 2
Team 2-1 3
Totals 25-56 10-12 11-17 28 16 69
Three-point field goals: Bryant 6-10 (Hill 2-3, Rainey 2-2, Simmons 1-2, Rayburn 1-1, Giles 0-2), Texas High 9-24 (Hart 2-6, Blevins 2-5, Paxton 2-2, Grant 1-4, Kidd 1-4, Ray 1-3). Turnovers: Bryant 10, Texas High 11.