Photos by Kevin Nagle
With their leading scorer this season sidelined by illness, things didn’t look so good for the Bryant Hornets when they hit just 1 of their first 16 shots against 7A/6A-Central Conference rival Little Rock Catholic on Tuesday night. Three minutes into the second quarter, Bryant had just 2 points against the Rockets’ packed-in 2-3 zone.
But because their scrambling full-court trap was causing havoc for Catholic, the Hornets only trailed 9-2 at that point.
And, of course, a good shooter keeps shooting. Having missed his first seven shots including five 3-point tries, sophomore Romen Martin found the range with 4:28 left in the half. His back-to-back triples suddenly had the Hornets within a point. And, after Antavious Lewis drew a charge on Catholic’s William Hancock, sophomore Lowell Washington posted up for a bucket and Bryant actually had a lead.
That was the start of a 29-4 blitz by the Hornets that put them in control of the game. Though Catholic rallied in the fourth quarter, taking advantage of eight Bryant turnovers, to trim the lead to 5, Lewis and Wesley Peters stepped up at the end with key free throws as the Hornets secured a 45-36 win.
Bryant improved to 8-7 overall and 2-0 in conference play. But, more significantly, the victory came in one of six games that will determine Bryant’s post-season fate. Only games against the three other Class 7A schools in the league count towards qualifying for the State tournament. For Bryant, it’s one down and five to go including this Friday’s contest at Van Buren.
Martin finished with 20 points including six 3-pointers, four of which came during the Hornets’ 21-point third quarter. Peters came off the bench to add 12 on a 3 and 9-of-10 shooting at the free-throw line.
“I thought the first half our offense wasn’t really that bad,” stated Bryant coach Mike Abrahamson. “We couldn’t get any shots to fall. (Catholic) started out in a 2-3 zone, packing it in, making us shoot. I liked what we were doing. We just couldn’t get anything to fall.
“So I just encouraged the kids to stick with it, to keep shooting those shots and don’t be discouraged,” he related. “The second quarter was better. We were able to execute and get a few scores and we were able to get a few stops and a lead after an ugly first half.”
After being outscored 9-2 in the first quarter, the Hornets outscored the Rocket 11-2 in the second. Peters’ 3-pointer with 1:24 left in the half put Bryant on top 13-11 at the break.
The Hornets opened the third quarter with an 18-2 blitz that included Martin’s four treys. After the first one, Calvin Allen made a steal and Martin dished to Kaleb Turner for a layup.
Duncan Diaz scored inside for Rockets but it didn’t slow the Hornets down. Allen knocked down a 15-footer then Washington blocked a shot by Catholic’s Jacob Stone. He went to the floor on the rebound and got a timeout to save the possession. It wound up leading to Martin’s second 3 of the run. He would hit two more unanswered as the lead ballooned to 29-13.
After a timeout, Peters made a steal and was fouled. His free throws pushed the margin to 18. It was 34-17 going into the fourth quarter.
“We just wanted to keep up the energy,” Abrahamson said of the second-half strategy. “We wanted to keep up the pressure. We wanted to see if we could get them to melt down for a period of time or for the rest of the game or something that we could take advantage of. And we did. We had a good period in the third quarter. And when someone’s hitting shots like Romen was hitting shots in the third quarter, everything looks better.
“But, I’ll say this: He hit those shots and he’s capable of that; it’s no surprise to me,” the coach continued. “What I’m really impressed with is our other guys kept finding him and they knew to keep finding him and they were actively looking for him. It wasn’t by chance. I was real proud of that.”
A 3-pointer by Davis Fox and a baseline drove by Trey Purifoy got the Rockets fired up to start the final quarter. Allen fed Clay Ingold for a basket but Catholic was on a 12-3 surge. When Purifoy got a stickback at the 3:06 mark, Bryant’s lead was down to 8, 37-29.
And the Rockets had a chance to get closer right there only to miss a pair of shots. Martin grabbed the rebound off the second miss and went coast to coast for a layup to help stem the tide. With 2:49 left, the lead was 10.
A flurry of turnovers ensued before Peters was fouled hauling down a defensive rebound with 1:20 to go. With 1:03 left, Stone knocked down a 3 and, at the same time, the Hornets were cited for a foul under the basket. The Rockets got credit for the triple and Purifoy went to the line with a one-and-one. He made one then, on the missed second shot Diaz rebounded and scored.
Suddenly, the Rockets were within 41-35. And the Hornets suffered a turnover, giving them a chance to get even closer. But Stone’s shot rimmed out.
With :44 left, Allen went to the line but couldn’t get the front end of the bonus chance to go down. Catholic’s Lance Harville-Thomas gathered in the carom and was fouled. The teams walked to the other end and Harville-Thomas hit the first shot to cut the margin to 5 but Lewis rebounded the miss on the second attempt and was fouled with :40.4 showing.
Lewis, who has struggled at the line this season, stepped up and made both shots, making it a three-possession game again. In turn, the Rockets missed on a trio of 3-point tries. Peters was fouled and capped off the scoring with two more from the line with :21.8 to go.
“Of course, in the fourth quarter, I’m disappointed,” Abrahamson allowed. “Really good teams are going to have to play two ways. Obviously, we were trying to play really fast the first three quarters and then we get a 17-point lead. I felt fatigue coming on our guys as well as their guys. The strategy that’s worked in the past is to go to our match-up zone or some sort of zone or half-court defense and then just handle the pressure when we get the ball back.
“It was a learning experience,” he said. “We matured tonight in that area. We had a lot of turnovers and couldn’t extend our lead — actually decreased our lead and stopped the clock a lot and they were able to capitalize.”
Regarding his team coming through with Hunt, Abrahamson said, “It doesn’t happen very often but the few times when Kevin has had to miss practice over the last two years, our practices aren’t as good. Our energy drops. He brings so much to our team. Not just scoring but leadership and knowledge of what we’re trying to do.
“So I was really impressed with our guys for coming out and playing the same way we always play,” he continued. “They didn’t have a letdown in terms of their mentality going into the game and I didn’t change anything. It was a next-man-up mentality.
“The only time it really showed up was at the end of the game when we didn’t handle the pressure very well,” the coach observed. “But to come out of there with a win with guys in uncomfortable positions is a win-win because we win the game and we get to learn from that experience. Hopefully the next time we’re in that situation, we’ll do better.”
HORNETS 45, ROCKETS 36
Score by quarters
LR Catholic 9 2 6 19 — 36
BRYANT 2 11 21 11 — 45
LR CATHOLIC (2-11, 1-1) 36
Wharton 2-4 1-1 5, Diaz 3-3 0-2 6, Enderlin 0-0 1-2 1, Harville-Thomas 1-6 1-4 3, Hancock 0-3 0-0 0, Stone 1-10 0-0 3, Purifoy 4-8 3-6 11, Fox 3-5 0-1 7, Straessle 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 14-42 (33%) 6-16 (38%) 36
HORNETS (8-7, 2-0) 45
C.Allen 1-5 0-1 2, Turner 1-4 0-0 2, Martin 7-16 0-1 20, Moody 0-0 0-0 0, Washington 1-1 0-0 2, Lewis 1-1 3-4 5, R.Allen 0-3 0-0 0, Peters 1-5 9-10 12, Wilson 0-0 0-0 0, Ingold 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 13-36 (36%) 12-16 (75%) 45
Three-point field goals: Bryant 7-23 (Martin 6-13, Peters 1-3, Turner 0-3, R.Allen 0-3, C.Allen 0-1), LR Catholic 2-13 (Stone 1-3, Fox 1-3, Wharton 0-2, Harville-Thomas 0-2, Straessle 0-2, Hancock 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 16, LR Catholic 17. Rebounds: Bryant 7-22 29 (Washington 2-5 7, Martin 1-4 5, Peters 1-4 5, Lewis 0-3 3, Moody 0-3 3, C.Allen 1-1 2, Turner 1-0 1, team 1-2 3), LR Catholic 12-18 30 (Harville-Thomas 6-2 8, Diaz 2-4 6, Purifoy 2-2 4, Stone 0-2 2, Fox 1-1 2, Wharton 0-1 1, Enderlin 0-1 1, Hancock 0-1 1, Straessle 1-0 1, team 0-4 4). Team fouls: Bryant 18, LR Catholic 20. Fouled out: Bryant, Moody; LR Catholic, Hancock.