MORRILTON — The Bryant Hornets struggled to score for a while Tuesday night and an uncommonly hot Malvern Leopards team kept then down for most of the first three quarters.
But, in the fourth quarter, the Hornets’ withering defensive pressure finally took its toll on the Leopards who turned it over 14 times in the final stanza. And, after shooting at a 53 percent clip through the third period, the weary, harassed Leopards hit on just one field goal in 11 attempts down the stretch.
Bryant left Malvern in its wake with a 32-point fourth quarter that turned a tenuous 43-41 lead going into the fourth into a 75-43 thumping.
The Hornets actually trailed 41-39 with :56.6 left in the third quarter, so it was a 36-2 blitz.
Bryant improves to 3-2 on the season with a semifinal contest against Greenbrier up next today at 5:15 p.m.
Overall, Malvern committed 34 turnovers in the game.
The Hornets could not buy a basket, it seemed, in the first quarter, particularly after senior Rodney Lambert went to the bench with two fouls with the game less than three minutes old.
Bryant was 2 for 12 from the field in the period with one of those makes, a 3 by Lambert to start the scoring in the contest.
The Hornets wound up shooting just 6 of 29 from the floor in the first half and Treylon Payne had three of those makes. He really kept the Hornets in the game, breaking out in the third quarter with three of his four 3-pointers on his way to a game-high 23 points.
Lambert came back to add 22 points. He had 10 in the fourth quarter including a dunk.
“What a frustrating night,” said Hornets coach Mike Abrahamson. “I think we just showed some immaturity tonight in how we handled adversity. We kind of had some guys going to extremes in their minds. You know, maybe ‘I didn’t make my first couple of shots so now I’m not going to be aggressive’. And it’s like, we’ve just got to play. The ball wasn’t going in for us there early and it affected our defense.”
Malvern, not known for being a basketball powerhouse, relinquished the lead only briefly in the first half. The Leopards were led by guards Dallas Lewis and Kakonon Blackmon along with post Logan Schneider. They were clutch until they ran out of steam.
“I think that our guys probably didn’t respect our opponent enough to begin with, which is frustrating,” Abrahamson said. “We didn’t play to our standard, what we talk about on a daily basis, which is frustrating.
“As the coach, I’ve got to voice that displeasure, but I’ve also got to try my best to be an example of what I want them to be,” he explained. “You just keep trying different things. You keep coaching and you keep subbing. I learned real quick tonight this wasn’t going to be one of those games where I just get to sit down. And that’s fine. Not that I expected that.
“They could shoot,” he said of the Leopards. “And I think they shot better tonight than they’ve shot all year, collectively.”
The first of Payne’s five 3’s in opened the scoring in the second quarter and had the Hornets within 10-9. Off a Malvern turnover, Payne hit a 15-footer and the Hornets had an 11-10 edge.
But, in a flurry, Lewis drove for a layup and Blackmon made a steal and layup. Schneider canned an eight-footer then, off a Bryant turnover, Blackmon hit a layup to make it 18-11.
With the help of free throws by Camren Hunter, A.J. Jenkins and Lambert, the Hornets were able to cut that 7-point lead to 2, 23-21, at the half.
“I’ve got to give our guys credit for, as bad as it was the first three quarters — I thought our effort defensively got better in the second quarter, but we weren’t getting rewarded as much, scoring the ball,” Abrahamson said, “We just stuck to it, stuck to it, stuck to it until we started putting the ball in the basket. For these young guys, it energized them.
“It’s frustrating that that’s where we’re at, that our energy and our happiness and our mindset and attitude is kind of dependent whether that ball goes in the hoop or not but, the reality is, that’s where we are,” he observed. “It’s part of the process. We just have to accept that that’s the reality, that’s the truth, and go from here.”
Lambert converted three of four free throws to start the third quarter, but Malvern surged again and, before Colby Washington hit a pair of free throws to get the Hornets back on track, Malvern had pushed the lead to 32-24.
Blackmon nailed a 3 to give the Leopards their largest lead of the game at 35-26 but that’s when Payne got hot again. Hunter drove for a basket with 1:42 left in the quarter and the Hornets had come all the way back to tie it at 39.
Schneider countered with a pair of charity tosses with :56.6 left, giving the Leopards a 41-39 edge. But once Lambert drove for a layup and Khalen Robison followed suit, the Hornets never trailed again.
To go with the 45 points that Lambert and Payne combined for, Robinson had 9 and Hunter 7. Kayleb West came in late and scored 5.
Payne drove for the first two baskets of the final period then Blackmon countered to make it 47-43. Bryant then proceeded to end the game on a 28-0 barrage.
“The fourth quarter was great,” Abrahamson said. “It was awesome. We had some guys really bring a spark off the bench, Kayleb West and Jalen Montgomery. I thought our starters were playing hard. I thought the effort got better earlier. We just didn’t reap the benefits until late.”
HORNETS 75, LEOPARDS 43
Score by quarter
Malvern 10 13 16 2 — 43
BRYANT 6 15 22 32 — 75
LEOPARDS (1-6) 43
Blackmon 5-14 2-2 13, Jones 1-2 0-0 2, Lewis 6-12 0-0 14, B.West 2-3 0-0 5, Schneider 3-8 3-4 9, Flourence 0-0 0-0 0, Burks 0-1 0-0 0, DeSoto 0-1 0-0 0, Davis 0-0 0-0 0, Nolen 0-0 0-0 0, Harris 0-0 0-0 0. Totals17-41 5-6 43.
HORNETS (3-2) 75
Hunter 2-6 3-4 7, Robinson 4-17 1-3 9, Payne 9-17 0-0 23, Lambert 8-12 5-6 22, Washington 0-3 2-2 2, Jenkins 0-6 3-4 3, Hall 0-1 0-0 0, Adams 1-2 0-0 2, Montgomery 1-2 0-0 2, K.West 23- 0-1 5, Brunson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 27-70 14-20 75.
Three-point field goals:Bryant 7-22 (Payne 5-7, K.West 1-2, Lambert 1-1, Robinson 0-7, Hunter 0-2, Jenkins 0-2, Adams 0-1), Malvern 4-10 (Lewis 2-4, Blackmon 1-5, B.West 1-1). Turnovers:Bryant 8, Malvern 34. Rebounds:Bryant 13-20 33 (Robinson 4-5 9, Hunter 3-4 7, Payne 1-3 4, Washington 3-1 4, Lambert 0-2 2, Jenkins 2-0 2, K.West 0-2 2, Adams 0-1 1, Brunson 0-1 1, team 0-1 1), Malvern 7-31 38 (Schneider 3-10 13, Blackmon 1-5 6, Lewis 1-5 6, B.West 1-4 5, Jones 0-3 3, Nolen 0-1 1, team 1-3 4). Team fouls:Bryant 11, Malvern 17. Fouled out:Malvern Lewis.