By Rob Patrick
JACKSONVILLE — Like anyone else, a basketball coach — or a coach in any sport for that matter — seeks[more] a level of comfort through the reliability of his players. Mostly, a coach is going to put players into battle (in this case, on the floor) that he can rely on to play hard, to take care of the ball, to hustle on defense, and to make good decisions.
That most often means that, everything else being equal, he’ll deploy players with experience, players he trusts, players from whom he knows what he can realistically expect because they've been through it together.
And it isn’t until he’s seen enough of the play of a reserve in pressure situations that he can start to include them in the mix for significant, meaningful playing time. That’s how depth is developed when, given an opportunity, reserves step up and provide some reason to believe they can be relied upon.
It’s about trust. Can a coach trust that player to perform as needed when called on to do so?
As the 2011-2012 basketball season continues to unfold, Bryant Hornets head coach Mike Abrahamson is gradually starting to trust more and more players. As a result, the Hornets are developing more and more depth as well as more and more success.
“It is something that I have to learn to trust and I’m trying to make myself trust it,” Abrahamson said of his bench. “The players are showing that I can trust it. It is nice to say to myself, ‘Okay, so-and-so’s not getting it done, let’s go to somebody else’ and it’s not that much of a perceived drop off. We have some players who have worked really hard to get better and stronger. I do think our depth is an asset.”
On Tuesday, the Hornets showed that depth again as 10 players contributed to the scoring and 16 played in the team’s fourth straight win, a 67-24 romp over the North Pulaski Falcons at the Red Devil Classic at Jacksonville High School.
Abrahamson pointed to a couple of contributing factors to his team’s development over the last two weeks. It started after the Hornets had dropped to 1-3 on the season after two losses at the Cyclone Classic in Russellville early this month. Their 50-35 win over Subiaco Academy in the Classic finale, started their current roll.
“We had a few issues in Russellville where a few things didn’t go our way and it brought out some temporary character flaws,” the coach related. “And we tried to correct those first and foremost.”
Then the Hornets went to Lake Hamilton with two starters, Quinton Motto and Zach Cambron, sidelined by injury.
“I think when we didn’t have Quinton and Zach at Lake Hamilton, we turned a corner because other guys had to step up,” he acknowledged. “Then when we got them back, we’re even better.
“We’re still making mistakes,” he asserted. “We haven’t peaked yet. We still have things to get better at but I’m happy we’ve won four in a row. It beats losing four in a row.”
The Hornets will get a chance to measure how much they've developed tonight at 5:30 p.m., when they face their sternest test of the season to date against the hosting Red Devils, the defending Class 6A State runner-up.
On Tuesday, however, when Arren Scruggs knocked down a 3-pointer from the right corner with 1:27 left in the first half, it was a game. Scruggs had pulled the Falcons to within 5 points of the Hornets, 22-17.
It wasn’t a game for much longer though.
The Falcons scored just 7 points the rest of the contest — the last 1:27 of the first half and the entire second half. Bryant outscored them 45-7 during that stretch, shooting nearly 60 percent from the field in the game — 71 percent after the first quarter — and forcing 24 turnovers.
Senior Jordan Griffin was the game’s leading scorer with 16 points. Motto added 10 to go with a game-high six rebounds, and Strodney Davis jumped off the bench to provide a varsity career-high of 10 points. Anthony Black had 8. Brantley Cozart added 7 despite missing most of the first half with two quick fouls. Marcus Wilson pitched in with 5.
Bryant fell behind 6-2 in the first quarter but answered with a 9-0 run to take the lead for good. Griffin stared that rally with a 3-pointer then Jalen Hewett made a steal and layup that had the Hornets up 7-6. Griffin added a pair of free throws then Motto knocked down a jumper from 12 feet down the baseline to make it 11-6 going into the final minute of the quarter.
Daniel Drone ended North Pulaski’s drought with a 3 but Griffin beat the buzzer with a driving jumper to make it 4-point game going into the second period.
The game-breaking run started at the end of the half after Scruggs had hit his triple. With 1:02 showing, Cozart buried a 3 and was fouled. Though he couldn’t complete the four-point play, the carom off his missed free throw went out of bounds off a pair of Falcons. The Hornets worked a play off the inbounds and Davis canned his second trey of the quarter to give his team its first double-digit advantage.
A North Pulaski turnover gave Griffin a chance to finish the half with a free throw, making it a 29-17 lead.
Marvin Davis opened the second half with a 3 to whittle the lead to 29-20 but the Falcons would muster just two more field goals the rest of the game. The next one would be a stickback by Drone with 4:39 left in the third quarter but, in the interim, the Hornets made some hay. Griffin hit the offensive glass for a bucket, Motto added two free throws then took a nice feed from Cozart off a drive and dish for a layup to make it 35-20.
After a North Pulaski timeout, Motto and Cozart combined for force a turnover and, moments later, Wilson buried a 3 to make it an 18-point lead.
And, after Drone interrupted briefly, the Hornets proceeded to finish the quarter on a 14-0 blitz that extended to 26-0 before North Pulaski finally scored again with :30 left.
By then, the sportsmanship rule was in effect with the clock running continuously.
The run that finished the third quarter began with another layup by Motto off a dish from Griffin. Wilson grabbed an offensive rebound and scored. Baskets by Griffin and Cozart along with free throws from Griffin and Hewett produced the rest of the run.
As he had in the Hornets’ win over Benton on Friday, Dec. 16, Black opened the final period with three consecutive baskets off the dribble. Davis drove for a pair of layups around a scoring drive by Luke Rayburn.
Brian Reed closed out the scoring with a free throw and, after North Pulaski broke its dryspell, a basket at the buzzer.
HORNETS 67, FALCONS 24
Score by quarters
BRYANT 13 16 23 15 — 67
North Pulaski 9 8 5 2 — 24
HORNETS (5-3) 67
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Griffin 4-8 7-8 1-0 1 0 16
Cozart 2-3 2-4 0-1 1 3 7
Wilson 2-3 0-0 1-0 1 0 5
Neale 1-6 0-2 2-2 4 0 2
Motto 3-3 4-4 2-4 6 1 10
Black 3-5 2-2 1-1 2 2 8
Cambron 0-0 0-0 0-2 2 1 0
Rainey 0-2 0-0 0-1 1 1 0
Hewett 1-1 2-2 1-2 3 1 4
S.Davis 4-4 0-0 0-1 1 2 10
Trudell 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 0
Rayburn 1-1 0-0 0-1 1 0 2
Royal 0-0 0-0 0-1 1 0 0
Reed 1-1 1-2 0-1 1 0 3
Scoggins 0-0 0-0 0-2 2 1 0
Giles 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Team 1-0 1
Totals 22-37 18-24 9-19 28 13 67
FALCONS (1-7) 24
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Mouton 1-1 0-0 0-2 2 3 2
M.Davis 1-3 4-6 0-2 2 2 7
Drone 2-7 0-0 1-0 1 1 5
Ja.Nash 0-0 0-1 1-0 1 2 0
Je.Nash 1-1 1-2 0-2 2 1 3
Sabb 1-3 0-0 1-2 3 1 2
Scruggs 1-1 0-0 0-1 1 2 3
Allen 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 2 0
Thomas 0-3 0-0 0-0 0 3 0
Williamson 0-2 0-0 0-0 0 1 0
Brown 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 1 0
Irby 1-3 0-1 0-0 0 0 2
Farrier 0-2 0-2 0-1 1 0 0
Team 2-1 3
Totals 8-28 5-12 5-11 16 20 24
Three-point field goals: Bryant 5-10 (S.Davis 2-2, Griffin 1-3, Cozart 1-2, Wilson 1-1, Rainey 0-2), North Pulaski 3-9 (M.Davis 1-3, Drone 1-2, Scruggs 1-1, Thomas 0-2, Williamson 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 12, North Pulaski 24. Technical foul: North Pulaski, Thomas (inbounds).