Photos by Kevin Nagle and Rick Nation
With a week off at the midway point of the 7A/6A-Central Conference season, Bryant Hornets head basketball coach Mike Abrahamson assessed his team and the league and made a decision about tactics for the second half of the campaign. And he’s decided with the way his team matches up against others and the way his players — all but one are underclassmen, nine of them sophomores — have improved and developed, to deploy in an aggressive pressure defense. It’s a plan that requires playing all-out with extreme hustle, proper positioning and execution and, because of the effort required, plenty of guys taking a turn in the game.
On Friday against the Greenwood Bulldogs, Abrahamson had deployed all 16 players that were suited up by the end of the first half. In fact, he substituted three sets of five players each at regular intervals in the game.
As it turned out, 13 of the 16 contributed to the scoring on the way to a 68-47 victory over the Bulldogs, who were without three starters.
“That’s the most points we’ve scored all year,” the coach noted. “It was fun to do it at home; make some shots and get the energy going and play real hard. It’s good. We played a lot of kids. They’re happy with it.”
Each group included a couple of players that have started at one time or another this season. Asked about the substitution pattern, Abrahamson said, “It was about a minute and a half of playing time or somebody doesn’t contest a shot or somebody doesn’t block out, they’re coming out as a group. They’re sitting together as a group.
“We’ve got a lot of kids that are progressing and getting better that I want to give a chance, to see what they can do,” he explained. “We’ll see if we stick with this strategy or not. I’m going to watch the film. But it’s going to take 15 people, knowing what we’re trying to do defensively more than anything.”
Junior Kevin Hunt, the team’s leading scorer, played with the second group and led all scorers with 14 points. Junior Jordan Walker, playing with the third group, came through with a career high 10 points including a trio of 3’s. Next came three players in the first group. Sophomore Lowell Washington had 8 points and nine rebounds. Sophomores Kaleb Turner and Calvin Allen scored 6 each.
“It’s good to see people like Jordan Walker — he’s a good player who’s battled an ankle injury then he got sick and missed some time,” noted Abrahamson. “Then to get out there — he’s earned his opportunity — and for him to have a good game, that’s encouraging. That’s some of the things we want to see.
“I thought Kyle Sahr did a few good things tonight,” he added. “I thought Kaleb Turner did a few good things tonight. Then I think there were some that were just a little bit nervous, that are better than what they played tonight. But, in practice, people like Garrett Cowart are coming along. Ricky Allen is really showing signs. Braylen Steen shows signs of really getting after it. Some of those guys didn’t play great tonight. But they earned some time and they earned a chance and I’ll watch the film and see what comes up.”
The Hornets launched 36 3-point shots and made 13. They out-rebounded the Bulldogs 37-29 including 15 offensive boards. They forced 17 turnovers.
Greenwood kept it as close by knocking down 6 of 19 3’s. Between the two teams, 13 different players hit 3’s.
Hunt made the first one, which put the Hornets ahead to stay 5-2. After Greenwood point guard Giovanni Germana drove for 2 of his team-high 9 points (matching teammate Matt Ludwig), Bryant went on a 17-5 run to take control of the game. Hunt added two free throws then Sahr added one and Ricky Allen converted a pair after hauling down an offensive rebound. Hunt connected on another 3 and it was 15-4.
Drake Lee’s 3 in the final minute had the Bulldogs within 8 at the first break.
But Walker drilled his first triple to start the second period. After Germana drove for a bucket, Romen Martin made a steal and fed Washington for a bucket inside, making it 20-9 and resulting in a Greenwood timeout.
When play resumed, Washington was fouled rebounding a teammate’s miss and added two free throws to push the lead to 13.
In the final four minutes of the half, Hunt nailed another trey, Turner found the range and so did Christian McIntosh, giving Bryant a 32-17 halftime advantage.
Luke Hales hit a 3 to start the second half but Hunt answered then made a steal. Though he missed on his dunk attempt, Marvin Moody was hustling back to rebound the miss and score. Another Greenwood turnover resulted in a triple by Calvin Allen and the Hornets had doubled up the Bulldogs, 40-20.
Gamely, the short-handed Bulldogs rallied to within 14. Clay Ingold traded a basket with Hales then Moody and Ludwig offset each other.
Greenwood had two chances to get closer but couldn’t take advantage. So when Martin drained a 3 in the final 30 seconds in the quarter, the Hornets were up 47-30. And when Calvin Allen started the fourth period with a steal and a three-point play, the margin was back to 20.
Devin Gilbert hit a free throw for the Bulldogs but then Walker ripped a 3 and, moments later, knocked down another as he was being knocked down. The resulting four-point play made it 57-31.
The lead was never less that 22 after that and it eventually reached 25 when Antavious Lewis pumped in a triple from the left corner, making it 67-42 with 2:35 to go.
The Hornets improved to 11-10 overall and 5-3 in conference play. They now face a week in which they play a pair of Class 7A members of the Central, Little Rock Catholic on the road on Tuesday then league-leading Van Buren at home on Friday. The way things are set up by the Arkansas Activities Association, only 7A league games count for 7A teams in the race for the three bids to the State Tournament.
“It’s a big week,” Abrahamson acknowledged. “But we don’t really talk about it. We try to handle every game the same. We’ll do that next week.”
Regarding the team’s trip to Catholic, always a tough place to play, the coach added, “I know it’s going to be physical. I know it’s going to be a hostile environment. I’ve already warned our kids. I just told them, that’s what they need to look forward to. That’s what we’re going to prepare for. We’re going to have to be mentally tough to win that game because our mental toughness is going to be tested.”
Bryant edge Catholic’s Rockets 45-36 at home on Jan. 13 in their first league meeting. Earlier in the year, at a tournament at Central Arkansas Christian, the Hornets extracted a tough 35-30 win against them.
HORNETS 68, BULLDOGS 47
Score by quarters
Greenwood 7 10 13 17 — 47
BRYANT 15 17 15 21 — 68
BULLDOGS (3-14, 0-8) 47
Hughes 0-1 0-0 0, Lee 3-5 0-2 7, Johnston 2-3 2-2 7, Ludwig 4-10 0-4 9, Hales 3-10 0-0 8, Germana 4-5 1-4 9, Gilbert 1-5 4-6 7. Totals 17-39 (44%) 7-18 (39%) 47.
HORNETS (11-10, 5-3) 68
C.Allen 2-5 1-1 6, Turner 2-5 1-2 6, Martin 1-7 0-0 3, Washington 3-4 2-4 8, Sahr 0-1 1-2 1, Cowart 0-5 0-0 0, Hunt 4-10 2-2 14, Moody 2-3 0-1 4, R.Allen 0-3 2-2 2, Steen 0-1 0-0 0, Peters 1-1 2-2 5, Lewis 1-1 1-2 4, Ingold 1-2 0-0 2, McIntosh 1-1 0-0 3, Carden 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 21-57 (37%) 13-19 (68%) 68.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 13-36 (Hunt 4-8, Walker 3-6, Martin 1-7, C.Allen 1-3, Turner 1-3, Peters 1-1, Lewis 1-1, McIntosh 1-1, R.Allen 0-3, Cowart 0-3), Greenwood 6-19 (Hales 2-7, Ludwig 1-4, Gilbert 1-3, Lee 1-2, Johnston 1-2, Hughes 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 12, Greenwood 17. Rebounds: Bryant 15-22 37 (Washington 3-6 9, Moody 4-4 8, Sahr 2-2 4, Peters 0-4 4, Hunt 2-1 3, Turner 1-1 2, Cowart 1-0 1, R.Allen 1-0 1, Steen 1-0 1, Walker 0-1 1, Ingold 0-1 1, McIntosh 0-1 1, team 0-1 1), Greenwood 5-24 29 (Hales 2-4 6, Johnston 1-5 6, Gilbert 0-6 6, Ludwig 1-2 3, Lee 0-2 2, Germana 0-2 2, team 1-3 4). Team fouls: Bryant 24, Greenwood 15.