By Rob Patrick
FAYETTEVILLE — For four quarters, the Bryant Hornets game with the Cabot Panthers in the first[more] round of the Class 7A State Tournament at Bulldog Arena was every bit the grinder that was the regular-season meeting between the two rivals at Panther Arena on Dec. 14, 2012.
But, in overtime, the Hornets got on a roll. The result was an 11-0 run to start the extra period and put the game away as Bryant pinned down a 57-46 win to extend the season to Friday’s quarterfinals.
“That was the performance we were hoping for the whole time,” said Bryant head coach Mike Abrahamson of the overtime surge. “But you’ve got to give Cabot credit. They were tough. They executed. They made it hard on us. Those kids came and they laid it all on the line. And our kids played hard too but we couldn’t play the way we wanted to play because of them."
Cabot had only led for less than a minute up to the final stages of regulation. With 1:17 left, the Panthers took advantage of a Bryant turnover and Kyle Theilemier gunned in a 3 to put them 44-42.
Moments later, however, the Hornets’ C.J. Rainey was fouled. With :54.2 left, he stepped to the line and knocked down both ends of a one-and-one to lock it up at 44. Cabot then held for the last shot. Hunter York got an open look at a 3 but couldn’t get it to go. Bryant’s Zach Cambron rebounded in a crowd and flipped the ball to K.J. Hill who was flattened at the buzzer. No foul was called and the game went to overtime.
At the bench, Abrahamson fired up his team and it carried over onto the court. Brian Reed got the tip for the Hornets. Hill got free for a 3 and, though it rimmed out, Greyson Giles came through with a strong rebound, kicked the ball outside to Tyler Simmons, who pump-faked a defender into the air then drove the rack for a short jumper.
As it turned out, that opening 3 was the lone missed field goal by the Hornets in the extra stanza.
“I think we got into the mode where we were wanting a call from the officials or we were wanting a break,” Abrahamson explained. “In between the fourth quarter and overtime we kind of got to that point where they understood they had to go make it happen. They couldn’t rely on a break or a call or luck in any way. They had to go make the winning plays. They had to have the energy and the urgency on defense. I think that led to making the plays, scoring the points, hitting the free throws, getting the stops, getting the rebounds, things like that.”
After a Cabot miss, Rainey drove for a basket that made it a two-possession game. The Hornets nearly got a steal in the backcourt and Cabot used a timeout. When play resumed, Hill, who played with four fouls from early in the fourth quarter, forced the Panthers’ point guard Bryan Shrum to commit a turnover and Simmons cashed in with another running jumper in the lane.
Cabot’s Clayton Vaught misfired and Theilemier rebounded only to have Rainey steal the ball from him. Giles and Reed got ahead of the Panthers’ defense so when Giles got the ball and fed Reed all they could do was foul.
Reed converted his second free throw, making it 51-44 with 1:41 to go. At the other end, Simmons blocked a shot by Theilemier and the Hornets spread the floor on offense.
Rainey converted two more free throws with 1:06 left, then Simmons capped off Bryant’s run with a steal and layup.
With :28 left, Theilemier broke Cabot’s drought of over four minutes. Rainey put the finishing touches on the win with two more free throws with :26 left.
Simmons finished with a game-high 16 points including 6 in OT. Rainey, who was 9 of 10 from the line, added 13 points. Hill, who sat most of the first half with two fouls, scored 11 points in the second half.
In fact, it was a key moment when he picked up his fourth. At the time, Cabot had its lone lead of 37-36 with 7:48 left and had a chance to add to the margin. But the Hornets got a stop after the foul and, at the other end, Hill made a sparkling move to the rack and scored as he was fouled, putting the Hornets back on top.
He would add two free throws and another basket in the next two minutes to keep Bryant on top before Cabot put together the surge that produced the late lead.
“It’s the fourth quarter in the State tournament and we were down,” Abrahamson said of his decision to keep Hill on the floor. “Sitting our leading scorer didn’t make sense to me. I know we were taking a chance, taking a risk but I told our team before we came up here we weren’t going to be scared to take a chance here or there, to take a risk. You know, you lose and you’re done. We needed him out there.”
In the first half, the Hornets held a 6-5 edge when Hill picked up his second foul and came to the bench. Bryant closed ranks and extended the lead by the end of the first quarter. Rainey scored off a drive, Giles canned a baseline pull-up jay, and Simmons drained a 3 to make it 13-7 going into the second period.
The teams played the rest of the half. Cambron scored off the offensive glass to make it 15-10 early in the second. Theilemier’s three-point play tightened it up but Simmons fed Giles for a basket. Shrum’s three-point play was negated by Simmons’ second triple.
By the end of the half, the Hornets were up 26-20 after Cabot missed two 3-point shots in the final minute.
“I was glad that we were able to withstand that,” Abrahamson said of Hill’s foul trouble. “I thought, we’re okay but now we need to come and do what our plan was and that was to put a little more pressure on them. We just couldn’t ever get into what we wanted to do. We finally did in overtime.”
He lauded Simmons’ play, saying, “Beginning of the game and overtime. I would’ve liked to look for him more throughout the course of the game. But we needed other guys to step up and make plays. They were doing a good job on Tyler.”
Hill drove for a layup, his first basket, to start the second-half scoring. After Cabot’s Michael Smith answered, Bryant’s sophomore star rained down a 3 to make it 31-22. But the Panthers wouldn’t let the Hornets blow it open. They rallied and pulled even 33-33. With a Bryant miss, they had a chance to take the lead but Bryant's Skyler McKissock hung around in the backcourt, snuck in and made a steal, scored and was fouled. He completed the three-point play. Jake Ferguson drove for a basket and Cabot was within 36-35 going into the fourth.
Vaught’s basket to start the fourth quarter gave the Panthers their brief lead, which Hill erased after that fourth foul.
On Friday, the Hornets face the top-ranked team in the state. North Little Rock is 26-1 on the season. Their wins include an 81-60 decision over the Hornets in the Coke Classic in Fort Smith back in December.
“We’ve got a lot of respect for them but, if you’re going to do anything in the playoffs, you’ve got to go through good teams,” commented Abrahamson. “This is the best in our State, number one. We know that. We know what they’re about. We’ve seen them. I just want our kids to accept the challenge.
"They’re really, really good. They’re really athletic. But Minnesota beats Indiana and other upsets happen all the time. That’s what this time of year is all about. We’re going to give it our best shot and play it out.”
The Hornets, who have now won State games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the early 80's, will be trying to make their second straight trip to the State semifinals.
HORNETS 57, PANTHERS 46
Score by quarters
Cabot 7 13 15 9 2 — 46
BRYANT 13 13 10 8 13 — 57
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Shrum 2-6 1-1 0-1 1 3 6
Theilemier 4-10 1-1 1-2 3 1 11
Ferguson 3-9 2-3 1-3 4 1 8
Stafford 3-3 0-0 0-0 0 2 6
Vaught 1-4 0-0 1-3 4 3 2
York 1-5 0-0 0-1 1 3 3
Smith 3-10 4-6 4-2 6 3 10
Iglesias 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 1 0
Team 1-1 2
Totals 17-48 8-11 8-13 21 17 46
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Hill 4-11 2-3 2-2 4 4 11
Rainey 2-4 9-10 0-5 5 0 13
Simmons 7-10 0-0 0-5 5 1 16
Giles 3-5 1-2 1-3 4 1 7
Reed 1-1 1-2 0-2 2 2 3
Cambron 1-1 0-1 2-3 5 3 2
McKissock1-2 1-1 0-1 1 0 3
Rayburn 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 0
Davis 1-2 0-0 1-0 1 1 2
Team 0-4 4
Totals 20-36 14-19 6-25 31 13 57
Three-point field goals: Cabot 4-18 (Theilemier 2-5, Shrum 1-3, York 1-4, Ferguson 0-3, Vaught 0-3), Bryant 3-12 (Simmons 2-5, Hill 1-3, Rainey 0-2, McKissock 0-1, Davis 0-1). Turnovers: Cabot 7, Bryant 10.