FORT SMITH — The Bryant Hornets earned a rematch with the Little Rock Hall Warriors for the championship of the 2017 Coke Classic at Stubblefield Center on the campus of the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith with a 65-60 victory over the Charleston Tigers in a wild back-and-forth game on Friday.
Hall edged Fort Smith Northside, 72-71, in the other semifinal. The championship game will be at 6 p.m.
At the Jammin’ for Jackets Tournament at Hall on Dec. 8, the Warriors defeated the Hornets, 64-53, Bryant’s worst loss of the season.
The Hornets, now 9-3, trailed early but, on a 3-pointer by Deron Canada, took 15-14 lead into the second quarter. They then dominated the second quarter with a 22-7 blitz that produced a 16-point halftime advantage, 37-21. Sophomore Khalen Robinson, on his way to 24 points in the game, had 19 in the first half including four 3-pointers. Canada finished with 15 points and freshman Camren Hunter had 13. Rodney Lambert pitched in with 9. Sam Chumley had 4.
“We just had a great second quarter,” said Bryant head coach Mike Abrahamson. “We were causing turnovers and really playing well on both ends of the floor. We really played well.”
The Hornets eventually led by 19 points in the third quarter only to have Charleston get hot from 3-point range as Bryant went cold.
“They just reeled off a seemingly endless amount of 3’s,” Abrahamson said. “We really struggled.”
The Tigers, who finished with nine 3’s including seven in the second half, rallied to within 42-40 going into the fourth quarter and eventually led by as much as 5 midway through the period.
“They had a kid, (Chase) Ewing, we just couldn’t keep him in front of us,” said the coach. “He was penetrating and then kicking it out for 3’s. If he wasn’t doing that, they were throwing it inside then kicking it out. It was a barrage. It was one of those things where you just thought, ‘they can’t hit another one’ and they did.
“A few were contested,” he noted. “But mainly it was because they were getting it inside and we’d collapse then they were able to kick it out to stationary shooters. They really did a nice job of adjusting and we had a hard time adjusting to their adjustments.”
The Hornets went to their half-court trap on defense to counter the hot shooting by Charleston and they were able to make some steals and cause some disruption in the Tigers’ defense.
“We switched things up offensive too,” Abrahamson allowed. “We had to make adjustments on both ends because it was just snowballing. Defensively, we were letting them get open 3’s then, offensively — we got some really good looks. We couldn’t make any.
“Deron was just 2 for 9 from 3 and all nine of his looks were pretty good,” he mentioned. “He would normally make more than two out of nine.”
But Bryant rallied, keyed by back-to-back 3’s from Canada and Hunter. It remained tight to the end but Lambert hit a key free throw then so did Robinson and Hunter before Canada clinched it with the last 4 points at the line after Charleston had the ball down 2 with :29.9 left and missed a pair of shots.
“We created some turnovers and executed better on offense too,” Abrahamson said.
Charleston’s 6-4 sophomore forward Braydon Ross finished with 23 points including 5 of 9 on 3’s to go with 11 rebounds. The Tigers out-boarded the Hornets 33-19 but committed 15 turnovers to the Hornets’ seven.
Jacob Green added 18 points including a pair of triples and Ewing had 10. Blaine Rowland added 5.
The additional free throws at the end allowed the Hornets to convert 17 of 24 while Charleston finished 7 of 11.
“(Charleston) hit tough shots all day,” said Abrahamson. “They’re good. You know classification doesn’t matter as much in basketball as it does in a sport like football. They’ve got good players, great shooters. They can really spread it out with some great shooters. Give them credit. They were down 19 in the second half and battled back.
“We knew they wouldn’t go away,” he allowed. “You know, it’s one of those things. I guess there’s a debate over whether there’s momentum or not. Some people don’t think it’s real, some people think it is. I think it’s a real thing but it doesn’t have to be. It’s in part at least a figment of our imagination. But it becomes a reality because we make it that way. And they certainly made it that way in the third quarter.
“Our kids were reacting to that,” the coach concluded. “And they were feeling a little sorry for themselves. We had a talk. I said, ‘We have to do something about it. You can’t just feel sorry for yourself, you have to do something about it.’ So, we switched our defensive approach and switched our offensive approach and they responded again. I’m really proud of that.
“We’re playing really good teams every game,” he asserted. “It’s tough.”
2017 COKE CLASSIC
Hosted by Northside High School
UAFS Stubblefield Center, Fort Smith
Thursday, Dec. 28
Game 1 — Little Rock Hall def. El Dorado
Game 2 — Bryant 63, Jacksonville 61, OT
Game 3 — FS Northside 68, Pulaski Robinson 52
Game 4 — Charleston 65, FS Southside 55
Friday, Dec. 29
Game 5 — El Dorado 80, Pulaski Robinson 53
Game 6 — Jacksonville 56, FS Southside 51
Game 7 — Bryant 65, Charleston 60
Game 8 — LR Hall 72, FS Northside 71
Saturday, Dec. 30
Game 9 — Pulaski Robinson vs. Fort Smith Southside, 1 p.m.
Game 10 — El Dorado vs. Jacksonville, 2:40 p.m.
Game 11 — Charleston vs. Fort Smith Northside, 4:20 p.m.
Game 12 — Bryant vs. Little Rock Hall, 6 p.m.