By Rob Patrick
CONWAY — Go to the hole, take it to the rack, attack the rim — every coach likes to see his[more] team drive the ball at the opponents’ defense. It can be very productive. They can get a high-percentage shot, score or get fouled or both.
Some, of course, are better at it than others. In turn, some are better at stopping it than others.
On Monday night in the first round of the John Stanton Wampus Cat Invitational Tournament at Buzz Bolding Arena, the Bryant Hornets were better at both — driving and stopping drives — than the North Pulaski Falcons were, for most of the night.
To stop those drives, you either have to have someone on the back of your defense that can block shots or you have to move your feet as individual defenders and clog up the driving lanes. With no real shot blocker, the Hornets employed the latter tactic to good effect. The Falcons, on the other hand, tried to utilize the former approach but, though they tried all night, they blocked very few shots and it wound up costing them a plethora of fouls.
The Hornets took advantage, coming up with three-point play opportunities five different times and, overall, attempting 45 free throws. And, even though they only made 26, it helped produce a 74-51 victory in a high-energy battle.
Both teams pressed most of the game and both committed 15 turnovers but Bryant hit the boards, out-rebounding the Falcons 41-28 with 17 of those 41 coming on the offensive end. Point guard C.J. Rainey and forward Brian Reed each had eight rebounds. Zach Cambron had seven for the Hornets.
“I was very happy with that,” said Bryant coach Mike Abrahamson. “They really wanted the ball tonight. That was good to see because we haven’t been doing that. Defensive boards, we gave up some and that was frustrating. We fouled a lot and that was frustrating but the offensive glass, I was proud of our effort there.”
Four Bryant players scored in double figures and a fifth came close. K.J. Hill led all scorers with 17 points. Rainey had 16, Tyler Simmons 15, Greyson Giles 13 and Cambron 8.
And, as a matter of fact, 74 points is the most a Hornets team has scored in a game since Jan. 4, 2002 in a 74-44 win over Sheridan. Earlier that season, the Hornets scored 75 in a win over Greenbrier.
It was Bryant’s fourth win in five days. Now 5-0, the team will be off until Friday when they’ll take on Jacksonville in a semifinal game at the Conway tourney.
“That’s kind of what we’ve gotten used to doing,” said Abrahamson about his team’s full-court defense. “We tried to treat them like we treated Maumelle (whom the Hornets beat, 57-53, on Friday). We thought we could get them to turn it over. We did some. We just didn’t do it as well, I didn’t think.
“I thought offensively, we were good tonight attacking the basket, getting to the free-throw line, getting offensive rebounds, getting stuff in transition,” he continued. “But defensively, we just didn’t have that bounce in our step but, four games in five days, I’m just going to be glad we got through it the way we got through it. I mean I’m proud of them. They played hard. Under those circumstances, that’s a tough stretch.
“The thing about this team that I love is that they play hard and they respond to challenges. They respond to adversity,” Abrahamson emphasized.
The Hornets, led by Hill, kept getting in the middle of the aggressive North Pulaski defense and getting fouled as the game got going. At the 2:41 mark of the first quarter, with Bryant leading just 10-8, the Falcons’ head coach Roy Jackson called a timeout. At that point, his team had already committed seven fouls, putting the Hornets in the bonus the rest of the half. Bryant, meanwhile, had yet to be cited for a foul and had already collected seven offensive rebounds.
“We did a little bit better, especially at the beginning, keeping them out of the lane and not letting them get a whole lot of easy stuff,” Abrahamson observed. “They were getting baskets, they were scoring but we weren’t fouling them as much. We started fouling in the second quarter, let them creep back in and make it a little closer for a while. But then we went on a big run.”
North Pulaski, 3-2 overall, was able to put together a surge to end the quarter, producing a 14-12 lead.
Cambron was fouled in the opening moments of the second quarter and converted a free throw. His second shot missed but Giles flashed for the offensive rebound and scored to put the Hornets ahead 15-14.
They would not trail again.
That opening salvo started what turned into a 20-0 run for Bryant. Simmons had a three-point play on a drive to the rim. Giles followed with a running jumper. Simmons added a free throw. When his second toss was deflected out of bounds off a North Pulaski player, Bryant got the ball and worked it to Simmons who drained a 3 to produce the first double-digit lead, 24-14.
The onslaught continued with a short jumper by Rainey and a long-range 3 by Hill. Giles’ three-point play capped the run with Bryant up 32-14.
North Pulaski got its first points of the second quarter at the 3:36 mark when Joseph Aikens hit a free throw. Hill countered with two from the line then Aikens hit a baseline jumper to end his team’s field-goal drought.
Cambron ate up the Falcons’ post players much of the first half. He scored down low then Giles connected on a free throw to make it a 20-point lead. But consecutive three-point plays by North Pulaski freshman RaShawn Langston helped whittle the margin down to 39-26 at the half.
And when the Falcons came out and scored 3 quick points to start the third quarter, Abrahamson called timeout and re-lit the fire under his charges.
“North Pulaski came out ready to make a run, ready to make it a game and we came out flat,” he commented. “But they responded. I give the kids credit.”
The lead was down to 41-31 and the Falcons had two chances to trim it further only to misfire. Hill hit a free throw with 5:47 left in the third quarter and it ignited another Bryant blitz. This time, it was a 22-5 stretch.
Reed followed up Hill’s free throw with a steal that led to a three-point play by Rainey who then made a steal and a basket to stretch the lead back to 47-31 all of a sudden.
After a timeout, Aikens drove for a basket to interrupt the run. But just briefly. Simmons countered with a 3 then, after a Falcons miss, fed Rainey for a layup. A North Pulaski turnover led to another bucket by Rainey, after grabbing an offensive rebound. Two free throws from Giles and another basket by Rainey pushed the advantage to 58-33.
Aikens, who finished with 13 points, came through with a three-point play but Giles scored to make it 60-36 going into the fourth quarter. A three-point play by Reed opened the final stanza, pushing the lead to 27.
The Hornets eventually led by as many as 28.
HORNETS 74, FALCONS 51
Score by quarters
North Pulaski 14 12 10 15 — 51
BRYANT 12 27 21 14 — 74
FALCONS (3-2) 51
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Langston 4-6 2-2 2-3 5 1 10
Scruggs 1-1 0-0 0-0 0 5 2
Thomas 2-5 0-0 1-1 2 4 4
J.Hall 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 2 0
Aikens 5-16 3-5 1-6 7 2 13
Wilson 2-3 1-1 1-0 1 4 5
Drone 2-8 1-2 1-2 3 3 5
Mouton 3-8 0-2 1-1 2 0 6
Weaver 0-0 0-0 1-0 1 2 0
Farrior 2-2 0-1 1-2 3 2 4
Williamson 0-2 0-0 1-1 2 2 0
Stewart 0-0 0-0 0-1 1 0 0
Kelly 1-3 0-0 0-0 0 0 2
Dill 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 0
Moore 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Irby 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Team 0-1 1
Totals 22-55 7-13 10-18 28 28 51
HORNETS (5-0) 74
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts.
Rainey 7-11 2-3 4-4 8 4 16
Hill 3-5 10-12 0-2 2 0 17
Simmons 4-7 4-7 1-3 4 1 15
Giles 4-10 5-8 3-1 4 0 13
Cambron 3-7 2-4 4-3 7 3 8
Davis 0-1 1-2 0-2 2 0 1
Reed 1-4 2-5 1-7 8 5 4
Crosby 0-0 0-2 1-1 2 2 0
R.Hall 0-2 0-2 1-0 1 2 0
Team 2-1 3
Totals 22-47 26-45 17-24 41 17 74
Three-point field goal: North Pulaski 0-5 (Langston 0-1, Aikens 0-1, Drone 0-1, Mouton 0-1, Kelly 0-1), Bryant 4-8 (Simmons 3-4, Hill 1-2, Girls 0-2). Turnovers: North Pulaski 15, Bryant 15.