By Rob Patrick
LITTLE ROCK — In the end, when you’ve given the last ounce of effort one last time, it seems like the whole season’s worth of weariness descends on you.
The end is bittersweet.
Bitter because there will be no more drives to the rack, no more swishing 3-balls from the corner, no more steals and coast-to-coast sprints, no more of that sweet anticipation before a game, no more “thrill of victory.”
Sweet because there will be no more defenders pounding you as you try to dribble up the floor, no more cuts and scratches, no more bruises, no more conditioning drills at practice, and no more “agony of defeat.”
The Bryant Hornets battled to the very end. Even when their hopes of going to the State tournament were dashed, they continued to bring it. But, the results didn’t change. In their final game of the season on Friday night at the sauna otherwise known as the Tiger Den at Little Rock Central, they were close. The Tigers held on, however, for a 68-57 win.[more]
The Hornets whittled a 19-point deficit in the third quarter, down to 5 in the final minute of the game before Central’s Brock Melvin sealed their fate with four free throws in the final 20 seconds.
“They didn’t go out easy,” acknowledged Bryant coach Ron Marvel. “They played hard all the way to the end and that was the trademark of this team. I mean they played hard.
“It’s a good bunch of kids trying to compete as best they could,” he added. “They played against some tough circumstances. Tonight, there were tough circumstances. You come in this gym on Senior Night, the officials are not on your side, the crowd’s not on your side and the kids fought hard and gave themselves a chance to win. I was very proud of them. These seniors have improved as the year’s gone on.”
Not only was it the final game for seniors Kendall Butzlaff, K.J. Hampton, K-Ron Lairy, Brandon Parish, Connor Rayburn and Dontay Renuard, it was Marvel’s last game as Hornets coach after he stepped in right before the season on an interim basis.
“I hate to leave them,” he stated, “but the school needs a nice young coach that can come in here and get this program going. I’ve enjoyed my year and I appreciate everybody from Bryant.”
There was a humorous side of the night, in retrospect. Lairy and Parish, who led the team in scoring with 22 and 13 points respectively, have developed a solid friendship in their years in basketball. But, on Friday, based on the pronouncements of the public address announcer at the Tiger Den, they could’ve been brothers, Brandon Parish and K-Ron “Parish”.
Down the stretch in the second half, if it wasn’t one Parish scoring, it was the other, it seemed.
The game was tight most of the first half. Central took a 6-2 lead on a pair of 3’s by big man, Alandise Harris. But Renuard’s 3 and a free throw by the real Parish had the game tied at 6.
Central managed a 10-8 lead going into the second quarter.
The Tigers jacked up 26 3-pointers in the game and made 10. Rayshan Griffin and Trevon Wilkerson connected on back-to-back bombs to start the second quarter.
In between, the Hornets got one of those bad breaks that seemed to follow them like that proverbial dark cloud all season. This time, a foul was called on a Central player and it should’ve been the seventh team foul and a trip to the free-throw line for the Hornets. But the scoreboard operator was a count behind. A quick check by Riley Hall, who was keeping the scorebook for his grand-dad, brought a response from the scorebook keeper that it was the sixth team foul. But, after Wilkerson’s 3, Lairy was fouled and, upon appeal from Marvel at that point, the scorebook keeper recounted and discovered the error. Despite Marvel’s protests, the officials decided there was nothing that could be done about it, they couldn’t go back and do it over. And they weren’t going to give the Hornets the free throws at that point even though there was a stop in the game for Lairy’s trip to the line.
It was just another brick in the Hornets’ wall of frustration this season.
Lairy sank his free throws and when Hampton drove the baseline for a basket moments later, the lead was down to 16-12.
The Tigers pushed the lead out to 25-13 before Lairy hit a 3 and, after a Central free throw by Jordan Washington, Hampton got free off a back screen for a layup with :03.4 showing to get the Hornets back within 26-18.
But, wouldn’t you know? Wilkerson tossed in a 3-pointer from midcourt to end the half, making it a 11-point game.
Lairy added two free throws to start the second half but Central answered with a 12-2 run that produced the 19-point advantage, 41-22 with 3:32 left in the third quarter.
And, along the way, another discrepancy between the scorebook and the scoreboard brought a unceremonious and premature end, as it turned out, to Butzlaff’s high school career. He was cited for a foul and it was posted on the board as his third but, in the book, it was his fourth. Before Marvel and assistant Jim Pennington could get a sub in for him, he committed another foul, thinking it was his fourth. It was, however, his fifth, a foul he might’ve avoided had he known he was saddled with four at that point.
Trailing 43-24, the Hornets began the long road back with a 3 from Parish. A Central turnover led to free throws for Rayburn. He hit one but, moments later, another Tiger miscue led to an offensive-rebound basket by Renuard.And when Central turned the ball over again, head coach Oliver Fitzpatrick called a timeout.
It didn’t hurt the Hornets that about two minutes before they started their run, Harris, their 6-6 star, and a teammate, Chukwukere Ekeh, had cracked heads. Harris had to come out of the game bleeding and went to the locker room to be patched up.
When play resumed after Fitzpatrick’s timeout, L.J. McLaughlin drained a 3 from the corner and the Hornets were back within 10, 43-33, going into the fourth quarter.
They had a chance to get closer before the end of the third period but couldn’t get a shot to drop.
Harris came back to start the fourth quarter with a new jersey on. The Tigers spread the floor and made the Hornets chase in their half-court trap. Matt Johnson got open in the corner and drained a 3 but the Hornets kept whittling. Lairy hit two free throws and, after another Tiger turnover, Renuard knocked down a 15-foot jumper and the lead was less than 10 with 6:06 to play.
Another 3 by Johnson, however, followed. Undeterred, though, Lairy drove for a layup then Rayburn swiped a pass and raced to the other end to cut the margin to 49-41, forcing another Tiger timeout.
Central pushed the margin back to 12, 55-43, but consecutive layups by Lairy kept Bryant alive. Harris picked up his fourth foul on a charge but, at the other end, he got away with a goal-tend. Nonetheless, the Hornets inbounded the ball to Lairy who was free inside for a bucket and, with 2:25 left, it was a two-possession game, 55-49.
But Hampton fouled out as Harris scored with 2:14 left. And, though Harris couldn’t complete the three-point play, the Hornets turned the ball over and Melvin was fouled. With 1:50 to go, he hit one of his shots to make it 58-49.
Rayburn’s 3 cut it back to 6 and, after Wilkerson converted a pair of free throws, Parish flushed a trey from the corner that had the Hornets as close as they’d been since the first half, 60-55, with :34 left.
Harris and Lairy traded free throws then it appeared that McLaughlin had forced a held ball that would’ve given the ball to Bryant with a chance to make it a one-possession game but the officials ruled that it was a foul on McLaughlin. Melvin converted both free throws.
After Lairy couldn’t get a 3 to go, Melvin went to the line again and converted twice to make it 66-57. A last-second tip-in by Harris set the final score.
LITTLE ROCK CENTRAL 68, BRYANT 57
Score by quarters
BRYANT 8 10 15 24 — 57
Central 10 19 11 25 — 68
BRYANT (9-19, 2-12) 57
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Lairy 6-21 9-10 2-3 5 1 22
Parish 5-7 1-2 1-1 2 3 13
Butzlaff 0-1 0-0 1-4 5 5 0
Hampton 2-4 0-0 1-2 3 5 4
Renuard 3-8 0-2 2-5 7 0 7
Rayburn 2-3 1-2 0-0 0 3 6
McLaughlin 2-3 0-0 1-2 3 2 5
Team 2-3 5
Totals 20-47 11-16 10-20 30 19 57
LR CENTRAL (13-14, 8-6) 68
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Brown 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 1 0
Johnson 3-7 0-0 0-1 1 1 9
Harris 5-7 2-3 1-2 3 4 14
Melvin 3-7 5-6 1-1 2 2 12
Washington 1-1 1-2 0-7 7 2 3
Wilkerson 5-6 6-10 1-1 2 2 18
Ekeh 1-3 0-0 2-2 4 5 2
Wilborn 1-3 0-0 0-0 0 0 2
Linear 0-1 2-4 1-2 3 0 2
Griffin 1-4 0-0 0-0 0 1 3
Jomes 1-2 0-0 0-0 0 0 3
Ross 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Team 0-3 3
Totals 21-43 16-25 6-19 25 18 68
Three-point field goals: Bryant 6-17 (Parish 2-2, Lairy 1-8, Renuard 1-5, Rayburn 1-1, McLaughlin 1-1), LR Central 10-26 (Johnson 3-7, Wilkerson 2-3, Harris 2-4, Melvin 1-4, Griffin 1-3, Jones 1-2, Wilborn 0-2, Ross 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 14, LR Central 15.