Hornets persevere, hit free throws late to top North Pulaski

CONWAY — The Bryant Hornets had led from the outset, thanks to a pair of game-opening 3-pointers by Romen Martin. Their largest lead over the North Pulaski Falcons had been 8 late in the first half. But with a sluggish start to the third quarter against a suddenly fired-up opponent the Hornets found themselves trailing early in the fourth, 26-25.

With 7:07 left, sophomore point guard Calvin Allen was fouled on a 3-point attempt. A good thing, right? But to that point, the Hornets were struggling at the stripe; no doubt, part of the reason they weren’t cruising at that point. They had hit just 2 of 12.

But Allen coolly sank all three free throws and, from that point, Bryant never trailed. The Hornets wound up converting 14 of 19 from the line in the final quarter on the way to a 41-32 victory in their third and final game at the John Stanton Bank of the Ozarks Wampus Cat Invitational Tournament.

Kevin Hunt finished with 12 points, Martin wound up with 11 and Allen 8. North Pulaski was paced by De’Marik Brown who scored 10 off the bench.

It was nice bounce back after a gut-wrenching one-point loss in overtime to Pine Bluff at the tourney on Thursday.

“We needed a win and we made just enough free throws to get that win,” observed Hornets coach Mike Abrahamson.

“I don’t like coaches to say we made them when they counted because they all count,” he asserted, “and we could’ve stretched that lead out early in the game and it might’ve been a totally different game had that been.”

Asked if the early struggles were a matter of focus, the coach explained, “I think it’s a matter of expecting to make it. When they miss, I will say they’re regrouping themselves and saying, ‘Okay, just stick to my routine. Expect to make it.’ It’s more of a mentality. Some kids get up there and go through their routine very slow and they’re very careful and very methodical and they’re taking a long time to get the shot. We just want guys to go up there and be confident, go through their routine and shoot it; hold on the follow-through and stand there until it goes in.

“The fourth quarter, we did that a lot better than we did the first three quarters,” he acknowledged. “It’s just something that’s part of the process. It’s good that they would step up under pressure and make them. They shouldn’t have had a lot of confidence going into the fourth quarter but they regrouped themselves mentally and made them, made enough.”

The team went 1-2 in the tourney. They’ll wrap up the pre-Christmas schedule on Tuesday at home against Watson Chapel.

“I feel like we grew,” Abrahamson said. “We learned a lot from our game Thursday night about how you can’t control the officiating. Whether it’s good or it’s bad, we can’t control it. We can control a lot of things we do. That’s what we focused on in film (sessions) and in practice (Friday). That’s what our focus has to be, control what we can control and do the best we can on things we can’t control.

“It’s funny,” he continued. “We go 1-2 in the tournament. One or two things go differently Thursday night, you’re 2-1 in the tournament maybe and you have a different feeling. But I do feel like we grew. We’ve got another quick turnaround. We play Watson Chapel on Tuesday. That’s going to be a tough test. I feel like we grew but it’s always about, ‘Show me, show me that you grew.’ We’ve got to do it on the court. So we’ll see.”

It helped Saturday that North Pulaski struggled to score both from the field and from the line. The Falcons were 8 of 21 from the line and 11 of 37 from the field.

“Our defense was pretty good when we weren’t fouling,” Abrahamson said. “We held them to low scoring and a low shooting percentage, which we like.”

It took until the first quarter was nearly half over before Braxton McKinney hit the Falcons’ first shot, a 3. It was countered by a triple from Hunt and the Hornets went on to lead 10-5 at the first break.

Free throws by Brandon England and a layup by Brown cut the lead to 1 early in the second period but a nice bank-shot by Allen kept the Hornets ahead. Lowell Washington scored off the block and, next trip down, added a free throw to push the lead to 15-9.

Isaiah Brown ended a drought of nearly four minutes for North Pulaski at the 3:34 mark.

At that point, the Hornets had four starters on the bench with two fouls. But they got a big lift from Ricky Allen, Kaleb Turner, Christian McIntosh and Wesley Peters off the bench with lone remaining starter Marvin Moody. They actually extended the margin. Ricky Allen drove for a basket and was fouled. Though he couldn’t get the free throw to fall, the Hornets forced a turnover and Moody scored off the offensive glass to make it 19-11.

Isaiah Brown scored again but McIntosh followed his own miss to answer to make it an 8-point game again with 1:40 left in the half.

North Pulaski was able to finish the quarter with free throws by both Browns but the Falcons missed four at the line during that stretch.

So Bryant’s lead was 21-15 at the half. Both teams started the third quarter cold. Breon Baker knocked the lid off the North Pulaski basket and started a run in which the Falcons pulled even at 21. Abrahamson used two timeouts during that stretch to try to get his guys going. After the second one, Martin took a nice feed from Hunt and scored inside to snap the dryspell and the tie.

North Pulaski took a 24-23 lead with 2:04 left in the quarter. The teams went back and forth for nearly two minutes after that before Hunt broke free from his defender and drove down the left side of the lane for a layup with :37 to go.

The Hornets thus had a one-point lead going into the final eight minutes. De’Marik Brown scored off a Bryant turnover to start the fourth but, on the next trip up the floor, Calvin Allen was fouled shooting the 3. Hunt followed up two missed free throws by De’Marik Brown with another drive to extend the margin to 30-26.

The Falcons missed two shots and Hunt was fouled. Taking a cue from Allen, he drained both shots to make it a 6-point game.

North Pulaski trimmed it back to 2 on a free throw by Isaiah Brown and a 3-pointer from Baker. But Calvin Allen was fouled with 2:13 left, starting the parade to the line. Allen made it a 3-point game then Martin made it a two-possession lead with a pair of freebies at 1:49.

The Falcons only scored 2 points after Baker’s 3. England had a tip in with :44 to go. By then the Hornets had built the lead to 8. Down 6, they got a chance to get closer after an empty trip to the line by Hunt. But, at the other end, Antavious Lewis took a charge. Martin and Hunt added free throws after that to extend margin to the final difference.

“It’s good to win,” Abrahamson asserted. “If we’d have lost that game, it could’ve been pretty demoralizing. Not to be disrespectful of North Pulaski; just knowing how many chances we had to increase the lead and didn’t do it. They came out with a lot of confidence in the second half and attacked us. I had to call two timeouts to regroup but, after the second timeout, they did and went back to playing our way.”

HORNETS 41, FALCONS 32

Score by quarters

North Pulaski 5          10       9          8 — 32

BRYANT          10       11       4          16 — 41

FALCONS 32

McKinney 1-4 0-0 3, Kelly 0-4 0-1 0, I.Brown 2-4 2-4 6, Bush 1-2 2-3 4, Smith 0-1 0-0 0, England 1-5 2-6 4, D.Brown 4-12 2-7 10, Baker 2-5 0-0 5, Lopez 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 11-37 (30%) 8-21 (38%) 32

HORNETS 41

C.Allen 1-3 6-9 8, Martin 3-7 3-6 11, Lewis 0-1 1-2 1, Hunt 3-8 5-10 12, Moody 1-3 0-0 2, Washington 1-3 1-2 3, Peters 0-5 0-0 0, McIntosh 1-2 0-1 2, R.Allen 1-2 0-1 2, Turner 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 11-34 (32%) 16-31 (42%) 41.

Three-point field goals: Bryant 3-9 (Martin 2-4, Hunt 1-2, Peters 0-2, R.Allen 0-1), North Pulaski 2-14 (McKinney 1-3, Baker 1-3, D.Brown 0-4, Kelly 0-2, England 0-2). Turnovers: Bryant 11, North Pulaski 15. Rebounds (o-d t): Bryant 12-23 35 (C.Allen 2-3 5, Lewis 2-3 5, Hunt 3-2 5, Washington 0-5 5, Moody 1-3 4, Martin 1-1 2, Peters 0-2 2, McIntosh 1-0 1, R.Allen 1-0 1, Turner 0-1 1, team 1-3 4), North Pulaski 10-20 30 (England 2-4 6, D.Brown 2-4 6, Smith 1-3 4, Baker 0-4 4, Kelly 2-1 3, Bush 1-1 2, I.Brown 1-0 1, team 2-3 5). Team fouls: Bryant 18, North Pulaski 24. Fouled out: North Pulaski, Kelly, Smith.

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