Every basketball ebbs and flows, particularly those that are competitive. With an inexperienced but talented team like this year’s Bryant Hornets, those swings came contrast wildly as evidenced by Saturday’s pre-season scrimmage game against the Pine Bluff Zebras at the Hornets Nest.
Sure, the Hornets struggled at times but never out of lack of effort. And there were other times when they put together some exciting and impressive stretches of play.
The trick for any team, particularly a young one, at this point in the season is to whittle down the length of those ragged times and extend the terrific play.
As it turned out on Saturday, the Hornets produced more of one than the other on the way to a 60-53 win over the Z’s in a notably intense battle, especially considering it didn’t count on the record of either team.
Junior Kevin Hunt led the Hornets with 21 points. Sophomore Lowell Washington added 15. Romen Martin had 8, Antavious Lewis 7 and Wesley Peters 6. Clay Ingold added a basket and Jordan Walker hit a free throw.
“I think a lot of today was the fact that it was the first time for a lot of our guys in a varsity game,” commented Hornets’ coach Mike Abrahamson. “The only people we really have with significant varsity experience are Kevin and Romen. Wesley has some but none of those other guys have varsity experience. And it’s different. It’s a different physicality, a different pace.
“I thought we played hard,” he asserted. “We accomplished those things that we set out to do. We were hard to beat. We were hard to play against. We were physical. But we’ve got to get better. We need to develop a bench.”
“Pine Bluff, they hit some tough shots, some contested shots,” the coach noted. “They shot the ball well from the perimeter. They pushed the ball. That was a good experience for us, very beneficial, I think. We’ll see in practice.”
Actually, the Zebras never led in the game but, after trailing by as much as 11, they pulled even with the Hornets at 37-37 with 3:45 left in the third quarter, a result in a flow for Pine Bluff and an ebb for Bryant.
Taking a feed from sophomore point guard Calvin Allen, Lewis snapped the tie with a free throw. That started a tale-tell 14-2 run by the Hornets that was led by Hunt. The junior popped a 3 off a kick-out feed from Peters off the block.
At the other end, Peters rebounded a Pine Bluff miss and it led to a driving layup from Hunt that made it 43-37. It was then that Allen went down with a cramp and had to come out of the game. Abrahamson moved Hunt to the point and Bryant’s surge continued.
The Zebras missed and Hunt hauled down the carom. Moments later, Peters drained a triple and the lead was back out to 9. Hunt boarded another miss by the Z’s but this time the Hornets were unable to take advantage.
Jalon Pulliam ended Pine Bluff’s three-minute drought with a bucket inside with :31 left in the third quarter. The Hornets, in turn, worked the clock to set up for a last shot. As time ran down, Ingold set a high screen for Hunt who cleared enough for a 3-point try that got nothing but net with :02.4 left, giving Bryant a 49-39 lead going into the fourth quarter.
And when Hunt added two free throws to start the final frame, the Hornets had their largest lead of the game, 51-39.
With the Hornets struggling a bit at the free-throw line, something Abrahamson asserted his team will need to improve, Pine Bluff whittled the lead to 54-49 behind the sharp shooting of Marcus Thomas, Carl Smith and Pulliam.
Bryant was running the spread to drain clock but Washington got free down low for a basket with 1:43 left, stemming the tide. Lewis added a free throw and, after Thomas hit one from the line for the Zebras, Hunt added 3 of 4 at the stripe to push the margin back to double digits, 60-50. Smith hit one last 3 to set the final score.
“I hope we play better than this going forward, based on this experience,” Abrahamson stated. “There are certainly a lot of areas in which we can get better. They’re correctible things. It’s not because we can’t do it. We needed this to move us in that direction. Things like transition defense, getting set; things like turning the ball over, forcing things, rushing things. I think they see what they want to do but sometimes it’d be better to make more of a simple play than to try to force a play.
“But I tell you, we got into some foul trouble with Lowell and Antavious and we withstood that,” the coach related. “Calvin Allen caught a cramp in the third quarter and we withstood that, basically, for the rest of the game. That’s ball-handling, free throws.”
The Hornets opened the game with a 6-0 run. Washington scored inside then Hunt made a steal resulting in a dunk by Martin. Hunt drove for the third bucket.
Pine Bluff cut it to 6-5 but Martin hit two free throws to re-order the momentum. After Washington blocked a shot, he hustled to the other end, took a feed from Martin and scored inside to make it 10-5. Later, a stickback by Martin made it a 7-point lead and forced Pine Bluff to take a timeout.
The Hornets finished the first quarter with an 18-14 lead. The Zebras cut to 22-19 in the second period and had chances to get closer before Lewis converted both ends of a one-and-one at the 5:43 mark to stem the tide.
Washington followed his own miss then a Pine Bluff turnover led to a dunk for Hunt. Washington posted up for a bucket then added a free throw to make it 31-19 with 2:11 remaining in the half.
Pine Bluff closed out the half with an 8-1 surge and Bryant’s lead was 32-27 at the half. The Hornets led 37-31 early in the third quarter before the Zebras pulled even at 37.
Bryant shot 53 percent from the floor for the game (20 of 38) with a trio of 3’s. Though the Hornets converted just 55 percent of their free throws (17 of 31), they got to the line for all those shots while Pine Bluff went 6 of 14 at the charity stripe. On the boards, Bryant finished with 29 to Pine Bluff’s 28. Hunt, Washington and Peters each had five.
The Hornets officially open the regular season on Thursday, Nov. 13, at home against the rival Benton Panthers.