Hornets solve Bentonville zone, hit free throws late for victory at Crabtree Invitational

BENTONVILLE — Facing a tough 3-2 match-up zone from the defending Class 7A State runner-up Bentonville Tigers, the Bryant Hornets knocked down eight 3-pointers to loosen things up then converted 13 of 15 free throws in the fourth quarter to hang on for a 60-41 win in the first game of the annual Crabtree Invitational Classic on Thursday.

The Hornets return to action today at 4:45 p.m., against the Clarksville Panthers then wrap up the event on Saturday morning at 8 against the Wynne Yellowjackets.

Bryant established an 8-6 lead in the first quarter and expanded that to 26-17 by halftime. With Romen Martin drilling a trio of triples in the third quarter, the advantage grew to 45-31.

In the final stanza, point guard Calvin Allen converted 9 of 10 free throws before being involved in a collision near midcourt that resulted in a gash over his eye, forcing him from the game.

Braylen Steen led the Hornets with a double-double including 17 points. Martin, with four 3’s in the game, finished with 15 points, Allen 11 and Sam Chumley 9 on three treys. Lowell Washington pitched in with 4 points. Kaleb Turner and Christian McIntosh had 2 apiece.

“We played well,” said Hornets coach Mike Abrahamson. “I thought we played well defensively throughout the game. There were plays scattered throughout that we didn’t play well but we never played poorly defensively for a stretch, which was really valuable.

“Offensively, against that 3-2, they are long,” he said of Bentonville. “They really help well and take away opportunities to get inside. Once our players kind of figured out how to get inside, to kind of play inside-out basketball, we were able to start scoring.

“We were kind of passive, passing it around the perimeter, very similar to the Greenbrier game,” the coach explained. “We were moving the ball well but we really weren’t getting anywhere. Once we started getting inside the zone, we started creating opportunities for us to score.”

Along with the outside shooting, Abrahamson attributed the change to his team’s ball screens.

“There was just kind of a mentality change where even if we didn’t get a ball screen, we were attacking off the dribble,” he said. “And we were able to go in and out.”

All eight of Bryant’s 3’s came in the first three quarters, which, in turn, opened things up inside.

In addition, the Hornets got to the line. For the game, they converted 20 of 28 free throws.

“Pretty early in the fourth quarter — they were sticking in their match-up zone — we were up maybe 12 and they had just scored,” Abrahamson recounted. “I just told Calvin to just kind of hold it up top, make them come out of their zone, which was one of our strategies; see if we can get them out of their zone just because that’s what they want to do and we want to make them do something they don’t want to do.

“Once they kind of came out of their zone and they had to chase us around, we held it well and got fouled,” he noted.

In fact, Steen got a layup in the final period for the only field goal of the period. Everything else came from the line.

“Guys stepped up and made their free throws,” Abrahamson said.

And some of that came after Allen was knocked out of the game.

“We’re in a transition offense situation and Calvin crosses half court, takes the ball to the middle and they’re trying to steal it from him,” Abrahamson related. “And they do but there’s a big collision just over half court, right in front of our bench. They go the other way and Romen gets a huge block, chases the guy down and blocks it. We get the ball back. But, on that play, Calvin got a big gash above his eye and he’s bleeding everywhere. There was no call.

“So that stopped the game,” he continued. “We had to get him out of the game and I’m thinking he has to get stitches. But our trainer, Christa Finney, patched him up and they don’t end up having to do stitches and he’s good to go.

“There was four or five minutes left but Christian McIntosh, Sam Chumley and Romen Martin really handled it from there without turning the ball over, made free throws and extended our lead,” the coach said. “Sam had a great game, played really well defensively.”

It was a quality win, acknowledged Abrahamson.

“Bentonville’s a good team,” he said. “They’re so long and they have skill. They have three or four future college players. They have two kids that have offers from UCA and other Division I offers. Their point guard is probably a Division I player, a 6-5 point guard.”

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