By Rob Patrick
HOT SPRINGS — It is becoming more and more the case that more and more Bryant Hornets are[more] contributing in meaningful ways. And it appears to be, at least in part, because the players are making the most of practice time.
It showed Wednesday when, bouncing back from a tough 48-40 loss to Jacksonville in the Red Devil Classic just before Christmas, the Hornets started the ninth annual Summit Bank Spa City Shootout with an impressive 72-53 win over the Malvern Leopards.
Now 6-4, the Hornets will play Hot Springs on Thursday at 5:30 p.m., in the semifinals. The Leopards, who came into Wednesday 3-1 on the season, play Texarkana, Texas in the consolation round on Thursday.
Sixteen players got into the game for Bryant and 10 of them contributed to the scoring, 12 of them had at least one rebound. The Hornets converted a whopping 31 field goals (in 58 attempts, 53 percent). Bryant, a Class 7A team, figured to have more depth than Malvern, a Class 4A team, but the Hornets' bench outscored the Leopards' reserves 33-2.
Sophomore Anthony Black led that effort off the bench with a team-high 21 points and seven rebounds. Senior starters Jordan Griffin had 17 points and Quinton Motto had 13. Motto matched Black for team-high honors on the boards.
“Everybody on our team shows flashes of being a really good player,” stated Hornets head coach Mike Abrahamson. “Down to the last man on our bench, I think we have good players. Some of them are just young or some of them are just inexperienced or still working on a few things. Several of them, it’s just a confidence thing to say to themselves that they’ve put in the work and they deserve to be good and they deserve to go out and make plays. I see it in everyone in flashes. Getting it out of them is the hard part but we’re starting to get it out of more people. It’s a process and you just work on it every day.”
Black provides a solid example. Always a tough defender, he’s developed into a solid playmaker off the bounce but had struggled with his outside shot. But, against Malvern, he hit all three of his 3-point attempts. If that continues, it will only make him tougher to stop on the drive.
“Anthony came off the bench and gave us a huge spark,” Abrahamson agreed. “I’ve got to give him credit for the way he’s been practicing since the Jacksonville tournament. He always practiced hard but in the individual and shooting drills, he’s really going at more of the game speed.
“He’s a good shooter,” added the coach. “We’ve known that. We’ve just been waiting to get it out of him. And he’s changed his practice habits in that regard and I think that led to his performance today. As with all players, we’ve got to adjust things and tweak things and, with him, it was just going through the drills at a faster pace, at more of a game-speed pace, getting his hands ready and feet ready and getting it off quicker.”
Motto too appeared to have been working on a couple of moves offensively. Using the threat of his jump shot a couple of times, he pump-faked, drew the defense then drove around them for a closer shot.
“We knew we were going to have a size advantage,” Abrahamson acknowledged, referring to the 6-7 senior. “So that was something we talked about. He had a very good game today.”
Malvern had the upper hand early in the game. The Leopards, who were led by point guard Marcel Bedford’s 22 points, held the advantage for most of the first quarter after jumping out 6-2. It was 14-10 after a 3 from Kalen Burks at the 2:22 mark countered a 3 by Bryant’s Brantley Cozart, the Bryant senior who played sparingly after re-aggravating a wrist injury.
But Griffin drove for a bucket, Motto hit a free throw and Black drove and hit a scoop shot to put the Hornets ahead for the first time, 15-14, with 1:03 left in the quarter.
A stickback by Malvern’s Dajour Dawn gave the Leopards a 16-15 lead going into the second period, however.
Dawn's was the fifth offensive rebound of the quarter for the Leopards, something that Abrahamson talked to his players about during the break. From that point on, Malvern would only add eight more boards on the offensive end the rest of the game.
“I was extremely disappointed in our defensive rebounding in the first half,” Abrahamson stated. “I thought we were getting some on the offensive end. Shots weren’t falling early in the game and sometimes you’ve got to play through that. But you can always block out and go for a rebound. Second half we did a lot better.”
In the end, Bryant wound up with a 41-29 advantage on the boards. The improvement, Abrahamson said, “was a collective effort.”
Cozart, before coming out, collected six caroms. Jalen Hewett and Zach Cambron contributed four each.
Motto’s drive to the rack to start the second quarter put the Hornets back up. He then blocked a shot at the other end and Black took advantage with a driving floater to make it 19-16.
Malvern rallied to tie it at 19 and, later, at 21 but, when Black buried his second 3 of the game with 4:33 left in the first half, the Hornets were ahead to stay. Bedford answered but then Griffin scored 7 points starting with a 3 in the final 3:30 as the Hornets built a 31-25 edge at the half.
Leon Neale scored off a drive to start the third quarter and, after Motto swatted a shot at the other end, the Hornets fed the big man inside for another deuce which produced the first double-digit lead, 35-25.
It was 37-29 when Bryant started to ratchet up the defensive pressure, extending to the full court. A quick 11-4 burst was the result, starting with another drive by Neale, a slashing move by Black for a bucket then, after a free throw by Malvern’s Tracey Johnson, a jumper in the lane by Black that made it 43-30.
After a Malvern timeout, Dawn scored and the Leopards went to a half-court trap. The Hornets solved it right away, finding Black alone in the left corner for his third triple. A Malvern turnover led to a layup by Neale and a 48-33 advantage.
Bedford interrupted with a 15-footer but the Hornets continued to surge. After losing possession on a turnover and a miss by Johnson, Hewett came down with a man’s rebound between a pair of Leopards. At the other end, Cambron canned a jump hook.
Malvern missed twice and the Hornets worked for the last shot of the third quarter. With time running out, Black started on a drive to the left of the key and lost possession of the ball. He went to the floor to contest it, tapped the ball to Griffin in the corner just in time for him to beat the buzzer with a 3, making it 53-35.
And the Hornets got the ball to start the fourth quarter. Motto posted up for a bucket, Black made a steal and a layup and the Hornets had extended the advantage to 57-35.
Their largest lead would be 27 midway through the period.
The score was 57-39 after a basket by Dawn and the Leopards forced a turnover as they tried to build some momentum for a comeback. But Griffin absorbed a charge on a drive by Dawn, the third charge the Hornets stood in for during the contest.
Working a give-and-go with Motto, C.J. Rainey got a layup and, after a Leopard turnover, Griffin drained his third troika. With 4:27 left, Rainey misfired on the front end of a one-and-one but the only player that realized it was a bonus situation was Griffin who stepped into the lane, rebounded and scored uncontested. A Malvern turnover followed and Hewett dropped in a running jumper from eight feet to make it 66-39.
Malvern trimmed that down before the end of the game but a basket by Luke Rayburn and a pair of them by Travis Royal kept the lead over 20 until a 3 in the final seconds by Dawn set the final score.
HORNETS 72, LEOPARDS 53
Score by quarters
BRYANT 15 16 22 19 — 72
Malvern 16 9 10 18 — 53
HORNETS (6-4) 72
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Griffin 6-13 2-2 1-2 3 2 17
Cozart 1-3 0-0 0-6 6 2 3
Wilson 0-1 0-0 1-0 1 0 0
Neale 3-5 0-3 1-0 1 2 6
Motto 6-10 1-2 3-4 7 3 13
Black 9-12 0-0 3-4 7 1 21
Hewett 1-2 0-0 3-1 4 0 2
Rayburn 1-3 0-0 0-0 0 1 2
Cambron 1-1 0-1 1-3 4 2 2
Rainey 1-3 0-1 1-0 1 0 2
Davis 0-1 0-0 0-1 1 0 0
Trudell 0-2 0-0 0-0 0 1 0
Royal 2-2 0-0 0-1 1 1 4
Reed 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 0
Scoggins 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Giles 0-0 0-0 0-1 1 0 0
Team 0-4 4
Totals 31-58 3-9 14-27 41 16 72
LEOPARDS (3-2) 53
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Bedford 8-23 5-6 1-0 1 4 22
Polk 1-5 0-0 4-2 6 2 2
D.Dawn 5-11 1-3 1-4 5 3 12
Johnson 4-9 4-6 3-3 6 2 12
Burks 1-5 0-0 0-2 2 2 3
K.Dawn 0-1 0-0 0-2 2 2 0
Lindsey 1-1 0-0 1-1 2 1 2
Jones 0-0 0-2 1-0 1 0 0
Kirk 0-0 0-0 0-1 1 1 0
Team 2-1 3
Totals 20-55 10-17 13-16 29 17 53
Three-point field goals: Bryant 7-20 (Griffin 3-8, Black 3-3, Cozart 1-3, Wilson 0-1, Hewett 0-1, Rayburn 0-1, Rainey 0-1, Davis 0-1, Trudell 0-1), Malvern 3-11 (Bedford 1-5, Burks 1-3, D.Dawn 1-2, K.Dawn 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 16, Malvern 15.