By Rob Patrick
JACKSONVILLE — Call it a six-weeks[more] test.
After overcoming some shakiness early in the season, the Bryant Hornets were on a four-game win streak coming into the championship of the Red Devil Classic at Jacksonville High School Wednesday. Their opponent was to be the host team. The Red Devils came in with a 7-2 mark after finishing as the Class 6A State Tournament runner-up last year and the Class 6A champion the year before that.
A quality team, Jacksonville may be as good as anyone the Hornets will face this season. And Bryant led most of the game. In the fourth quarter, however, the Red Devils intensified their defense and rallied for a 48-40 victory.
The Hornets’ Brantley Cozart scored on a goal-tending call with 3:04 left in the third quarter, producing a 29-25 lead. But Bryant didn’t add another field goal — and just three free throws — until there was only 2:24 left in the game. That’s when Cozart hit a 3-pointer to cut into a 40-32 deficit.
The Hornets forced a turnover and Jordan Griffin trimmed two free throws off the margin, making it 40-37 with 2:13 to go only to have Jacksonville reel off a decisive 8-0 run.
“We’re not looking for moral victories,” stated Hornets coach Mike Abrahamson. “We’re concerned with how we play. I was very pleased with the overall effort, very pleased with taking five charges. I was pretty happy with our defense overall. We held them to a fairly low shooting percentage — not what we wanted to, it was right around 38 percent, I think. We want to keep it under 35. But they really hurt us on the boards. They got to the free throw line a lot more than us.
"You’ve got to give them credit," he asserted. "That’s a really good team.”
While Bryant forced 19 turnovers, Jacksonville dominated with a 36-15 rebounding advantage. And, of the Devils’ 36 boards, 15 came on the offensive end.
Jacksonville hit 20 of 28 from the free-throw line to Bryant’s 11 of 14.
Still, the difference came during that dry spell for the Hornets who were 1 of 16 from the field between the goal-tending call for Cozart and a 3-pointer by Griffin in the final seconds.
“They just really picked up the defensive pressure on the ball and we just had a hard time putting the ball in the bucket in the second half,” Abrahamson said. “Give them credit. They’re a very tough defensive team. They’re a very tough team all the way around.
“They were not helping off on Brantley,” he explained. “We couldn’t get him free. They’re really athletic and they just guarded the ball so well that whoever had the ball for us was uncomfortable. They were athletic and long and big and they challenge shots so well. We just couldn’t get free. Anything we tried, we just couldn’t shake them for open looks.
“I thought we battled really well,” the coach added. “I thought we came out with a great game plan and the players were executing that game plan. We just had trouble scoring.
“The first half, we were able to get into their defense and get some layups off of dump-offs,” he concluded. “We couldn’t get that in the second half. We just couldn’t score in the second half.”
The Hornets did have the Devils on the run for a while. Jacksonville led 6-4 with 5:13 left in the first quarter then didn’t get the lead back until the final seconds of the third quarter.
Bryant took the lead after Quinton Motto took the first of those five charges the Hornets drew off Jacksonville drives. Cozart took advantage with a 3. Moments later, Motto took a feed from Cozart who had driven into the lane. Motto was fouled on his shot and converted twice to make it 9-6. Zach Cambron added a layup off a drive-and-dish by Griffin and it was a 5-point game.
Jacksonville’s Brandon Brockman hit the offensive glass to get his team going again and, after Bryant’s Strodney Davis scored, the Red Devils rallied to within 13-11 going into the second quarter.
Jacksonville tied it on a stickback by Terrell Brown early in the new period but the Hornets’ Jalen Hewett answered off the offensive boards. Anthony Black followed with a steal and layup and the frustrated Devils had to have a timeout.
When play resumed, Griffin took a charge and, though the Hornets turned it back over, they got it back when Black took a charge. Jacksonville got another chance with a turnover only to have Marcus Wilson made a steal for the Hornets which led to a basket by Hewett off a goal-tend. And, after the Devils missed, Black drove, drew the defense and dished to Hewett for another bucket that gave Bryant its largest lead of 21-13 with 1:55 left in the half.
Aaron Smith hit a 3 for Jacksonville and the Devils were within 21-18 at the break.
Bryant maintained the edge until Brown hit a follow shot and Dewayne Waller added a free throw to tie it at 25 with 4:12 left in the third quarter.
But the Hornets burned Jacksonville’s halfcourt trap as C.J. Rainey fed Black for a layup and, after a Devil turnover, Cozart’s shot was slapped away on the way down for the goal-tending call that had the Hornets up 29-25.
Brown, who matched Smith for game-high honors with 10 points each and hauled down 11 rebounds, started Jacksonville’s rally with a bucket off a teammate's miss. Justin McCleary canned a jumper to tie it at 29.
The Hornets had chances to regain the advantage when first Hewett then Black made steals. After the latter, Cambron got the free-throw line but couldn’t get either shot to fall. So when Keith Charleston was fouled with :22.6 showing and converted the second of two charity tosses, Jacksonville had its first lead since early in the game.
To start the fourth quarter, Hewett converted a pair of free throws to put the Hornets up 31-30. Jacksonville, however, scored the next 5 points, all at the line. With 5:05 to go, Motto drew a foul and converted once to trim the margin to 35-32. And Bryant got a shot at tying it when Jacksonville turned it over. But Black’s 3-point try rimmed out.
In answer, the Red Devils cleared the post to enable 6-5 Xavier Huskey to post up Griffin, a 5-10 guard. The result was a three-point play that doubled the advantage. McCleary followed with a steal but blew a dunk. David Johnson rebounded for the Devils, however, and they set up Huskey in the post again for a basket that pushed the lead to 40-32, the largest to that point for the Red Devils.
They would eventually lead by as much as 11 before Griffin’s late 3 that set the final score.
Motto paced Bryant with 9 points. Cozart and Hewett had 8 each, Black 6 and Griffin 5. Cambron's four rebounds were tops for the Hornets.
Now 5-4, Bryant will return to action on Wednesday, Dec. 28, at 11:30 a.m., against the Malvern Leopards in the first round of the Summit Bank Spa City Shootout at Summit Arena in Hot Springs.
RED DEVILS 48, HORNETS 40
Score by quarters
BRYANT 13 8 8 11 — 40
Jacksonville 11 7 12 18 — 48
HORNETS (5-4) 40
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Griffin 1-7 2-2 0-1 1 4 5
Cozart 3-10 0-0 0-0 0 4 8
Wilson 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 1 0
Neale 0-0 0-0 0-2 2 3 0
Motto 2-2 5-6 1-1 2 4 9
Black 2-8 2-2 0-1 1 0 6
Hewett 3-4 2-2 1-1 2 0 8
Davis 1-2 0-0 0-1 1 1 2
Cambron 1-1 0-2 1-3 4 3 2
Rainey 0-2 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Team 1-1 2
Totals 13-37 11-14 4-11 15 21 40
RED DEVILS (8-2) 48
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Richardson 0-1 0-0 1-0 1 0 0
Smith 2-6 4-6 0-2 2 4 10
McCleary 1-2 4-6 0-1 1 3 6
Huskey 3-6 2-2 1-6 7 1 8
Brown 4-6 2-2 6-5 11 4 10
Hayes 1-2 3-4 0-0 0 0 5
Waller 1-8 3-4 0-2 2 2 5
House 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 1 0
Brockman 1-1 0-0 1-1 2 0 2
Berkley 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Charleston 0-1 2-4 1-2 3 1 2
Johnson 0-0 0-0 1-1 2 0 0
Team 4-1 5
Totals 13-34 20-28 15-21 36 16 48
Three-point field goals: Bryant 3-12 (Cozart 2-4, Griffin 1-1, Black 0-3, Rainey 0-2, Hewett 0-1, Wilson 0-1), Jacksonville 2-10 (Smith 2-4, Waller 0-3, Hayes 0-1, House 0-1, Charleston 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 14, Jacksonville 19.