By Rob Patrick
During the regular season, the Bryant Hornets scored fewer than 44 points in exactly[more] one game. And they won it.
As you might suspect, it was a grinder of a game. Bryant won 36-33 over the Cabot Panthers on Dec. 14, 2012.
It was, in fact, the first time the Hornets played in Cabot’s new Panther Arena since they’d surged through two rounds of the Class 7A State Tournament in March of 2012, reaching the State semifinals for the first time since the early 1980’s.
This year, the State Tournament is being held in Fayetteville’s brand spanking new Bulldog Arena and it’ll be the Cabot Panthers that the Hornets debut against tonight at 8:30.
In the previous game, Cabot set the tempo of the game by patiently working their offense against the Hornets defense. Even though Bryant was ahead most of the game, the Panthers kept it close, shortened the game and, at the end, surged into the lead. A crucial three-point play by junior Tyler Simmons and a free throw by C.J. Rainey in the final minute allowed the Hornets to escape with the win.
Sophomore guard K.J. Hill was the game’s leading scorer with 12 points.
Both teams figure to be better now. Cabot, playing in the power-packed East Conference that includes juggernauts Little Rock Hall and Little Rock Parkview, the Panthers finished fifth with an 11-14 record. Bryant, after an 0-4 start to the South Conference season, comes into the tournament with 8 wins in its last 10 games including an impressive 64-36 win in the regular-season finale against El Dorado. Cabot played on Friday and defeated Searcy.
Will it make a difference if Cabot played on Friday and Bryant had the night off?
“We’ll find out,” stated Hornets coach Mike Abrahamson. “I hope not.
“I know our players are ready to play,” he asserted. “We haven’t played in a week and they don’t like it. They want to play. Coaches like practice, the players love games. They’re used to quick turnarounds, playing a game, getting ready for the next opponent really fast then trying to execute that game plan. We’ve been practicing and competing against each other and doing the best that we can but I know they’re really looking forward to playing now. And just being out there is not really what we want to do. We want to get out there and play well.
“I know Cabot is a tough opponent,” the coach stated. “They’re well-coached and we’re going to have to beat them. They’re not going to beat themselves. We’re going to try to do what we do the best we can and, hopefully, it works.”
Asked about his approach to the post-season particularly in light of last season’s success, which came as a surprise to many around the state, Abrahamson said, “I just don’t want them to be tight. You know, I think a lot of teams have a tendency to do that at a State tournament or other big tournaments like that. They take a different approach than what they’ve done all year long.
“I want to take the same approach, just like every other game,” he asserted. “I want them to treat it like it’s any other game, like it’s a game in mid-January or early February. I want them to have a lot of confidence and be comfortable with our game plan and what we’re trying to do. Be business-like in our approach but be loose and not be scared that if we can go up there and take a few chances, we can go do that. Having said that, that worked for us last year; this is a different team and it may not work this year. I don’t know. We’ve got to play it out.”
Regarding the Panthers, Abrahamson said, “They’re going to play hard. They’re going to be physical. If they get an opportunity to block out, they’re going to hit us hard. If we cut into the lane, they’re going to bump us. If they get a chance to set a screen, they’re going to set a solid screen. They’re going to run their stuff on offense really well. They’re going to get good shots.
“They’ve got some good shooters on the team and they’ve got guys that aren’t necessarily very big but they post really hard,” he continued. “They’re just physical. And they’re going to get it where they want it and they’re going to get good shots. So, we’ve got to do our best to make those shots contested, block out and get the rebound, and we’ve got to score.
“We only scored 36 on them last time. You’re not going to score 36 and win too many games. We were able to do it last time but we don’t want to do it this time.”
It figures that both teams have improved. Asked what his team does better, Abrahamson said, “Probably everything to some degree. I just think going through some hard times earlier in the year has just made us tougher in just about every area. I would say we’re rebounding a lot better than we were. There’s more of an understanding from the players about what I want from them and the sorts of things we’re looking for as a unit, what kind of shots and what’s good defensively.”