CONWAY — Gabe George converted 7 of 8 free throws in the final 1:18 and combined with Will Diggins for 18 points in the fourth quarter as the Bryant Hornets freshman team secured the second seed for the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference post-season tournament with a 55-51 win over the Conway White Wampus Cats at Buzz Bolding Arena Thursday night.
Conway White had a chance to snatch the 2-spot away from the Hornets but dropped into a third-place tie with Little Rock Catholic going into the final night of the regular season on Monday.
Bryant will finish out at home against the rival Benton Panthers. As the 2 seed, the Hornets will begin the CAJHC tournament on the other side of the bracket from unbeaten regular-season champion North Little Rock.
The tournament is in Cabot and will commence on Monday, Feb. 11.
“It was a big win,” acknowledged Hornets coach Tyler Posey. “They’re a really good team. We made all the winning plays down the stretch.”
The game was tied at 40, 42 and 44 during the fourth quarter. With 2:45 left, Landyn Newburn dished to Diggins for a basket to put the Hornets ahead. Moments later, Conway White had a chance to tie it at the free-throw line but only converted once. And, again, Newburn fed Diggins inside for a bucket to make it 48-45 with 1:50 left.
Diggins picked up his fourth foul and Conway White was able to convert twice at the line to trim the advantage to 1. That’s when George began his parade to the charity stripe. He converted both ends of a one-and-one to make it a 3-point game.
After a Bryant timeout, Conway missed on a 3-point try and, with :42.9 remaining, George was fouled again. And once more, he knocked down both ends of the bonus opportunity, making it a 5-point lead.
Conway took timeouts at :32.7 and 16.9 before hitting a 3 with :10.9 showing. Despite an aggressive trapping press, the Hornets got the ball in to George, who was fouled with :09.7 to go.
This time, however, George made just one of the free throws, leaving the door open for Conway White to tie it with a 3-pointer. But, perhaps not realizing it was a three-point game, the Cats’ ball-handler drove to the hoop.
And, as it turned out, he nearly got a three-point play out of it. The shot rolled off the rim and just one of the free throws fell with :03.2 showing.
George was fouled once again on the inbounds play and, with :00.9 on the clock, he coolly iced the game way with two final free throws.
He finished with 26 points. Cameron Booth added 12 points, all in the first half, including a trio of 3-pointers. Diggins finished with 7 points and 10 rebounds.
“Trying to take care of the basketball there at the end of the game — I don’t know if we had any turnovers late,” Posey said. “That was big. And keeping them to one shot was huge for us. We just kept grinding and we hit our free throws at the end. That was big. We made a lot of winning plays and I’m proud of the guys.”
The Hornets improved to 15-5 overall this season.
Conway White built a 12-5 lead early, but Booth connected on consecutive 3’s to cut the lead to 1. A buzzer-beater off a turnover by the Cats gave them a 14-11 edge going into the second stanza.
Conway White pushed it back to 21-16 before Booth canned another triple and Newburn scored on a drive to tie it.
It was 25-25 at the half.
The Cats took a 30-27 lead early in the third quarter but Geoge came through with a three-point play off a nifty feed from Booth. Newburn followed with a layup to put the Hornets ahead.
When George hit a 3 with 1:12 left in the quarter, Bryant was up 37-31 but Conway White rallied and, on a buzzer-beating 3, held a 38-37 edge going into the fourth quarter.