Brown sparks Hornets’ win
EDITOR’S NOTE: Because the look back at each day in Bryant athletic history has been so favorably received during the time when there was no sports during the COVID-19 shutdown, BryantDaily.com will continueposting past stories of Bryant athletics either posted on BryantDaily.com (from 2009 to the present) or published in the Bryant Times (from 1998 to 2008).
By ROB PATRICK
Bryant Hornets sophomore Matt Brown is a natural.
On the girdiron last fall, he was the Hornets’ second-leading receiver. Last summer, he was the star catcher on the 15-and-under Bryant All-Star baseball team that won their way to the Babe Ruth World Series. Now, on the basketball court, his quick hands on defense and court awareness, ball-handling and deft passing on offense have earned him more and more playing time.
And, to top it off, he’s the kind of kid that won’t let headlines go to his head.
Tuesday, Brown, drawing his second varsity start, sparked the Hornets in a 61-57 victory over the Texarkana Razorbacks in a game that, if not a must-win, was definitely a much-needed win for Bryant.
It was the Hornets’ first AAAAA-South Conference victory in four games.
“It was a big win for all of us,” stated Hornets head coach Leo Olberts. “The coaches needed a win and so did the kids. Everybody’s just been working their tail off.
“I told them before the ballgame, ‘You know, we’re right near the top of the hill, getting ready to go over it and start playing a lot better,’” Olberts reported.
He added that he realized his team was there with their performance in a 2-point loss at El Dorado on Friday.
“The intensity and the hustle has been there all along,” he noted. “We’ve just been missing some shots and making a turnover here or there at a crucial time. I thought tonight we played an outstanding game most of the game. (Texarkana)’s got a big, athletic bunch and I just can’t give our guys enough credit for hanging in there and never giving up.”
The key point in the game, Olberts said, was when Texarkana put a run together early in the fourth quarter to turn a 46-43 Bryant lead into a 50-46 Razorback lead. After attacking Texarkana offensively all evening, forcing an uptempo game that, judging by their past scores, the Razorbacks don’t much like, the Hornets stagnated a bit on offense during the stretch. But, after a timeout, Brown stepped up and drilled the Hornets’ lone 3-pointer of the game.
Junior center Nathan James followed with one of his six steals as the Hornets jumped into a halfcourt trap. Brown took a pass from James and drove to the hoop but his shot was blocked as he was slammed into the pad on the wall behind the basket.
In turn, Texarkana’s 6-6 Antonio Burks buried a 15-foot jumper to make it 52-49. But Bryant’s Jared Thomas drove on Burks and scored, drawing the fourth foul on the Razorbacks’ big man. Though Thomas missed the free throw, the lead was cut to 1.
Burks misfired but 6-7 Nate Wilson blocked a shot by Bryant’s Joe Whittington. But the Hornets got the ball back when the Razorbacks turned the ball over on an illegal screen foul. Thomas was awarded another trip to the line where he tied it with 3:09 left to play.
Brown followed with a steal and layup that put the Hornets ahead to stay.
Texarkana had two chances to counter. Brent Berger missed a 3-point try and, after Thomas had a shot rejected, Dustin Moseley couldn’t find the range for 3-point territory.
The Hornets then spread the floor to work the clock. Brown, working the point, got caught up and trapped in the lane. The ball was knocked loose and bounced toward the left corner. The sophomore chased it down and, from his knees, whipped a back-handed bounce pass to Thomas who was breaking toward the basket. Thomas’ layup gave Bryant a 4-point edge.
Moments later, however, Berger followed his own shot and scored as he was fouled by Brown. The resulting three-point play had the Razorbacks within 1 again.
Whittington was then fouled with :23 left to play. He converted on the first attempt but missed his second. The carom went long, however, and Whittington himself actually tracked it down near the Bryant bench. He bounced it off a Razorback and the Hornets retained possession with :19.8 on the clock.
After a Bryant timeout, Whittington was fouled again. He converted twice this time to give Bryant a 59-55 advantage.
The Hornets, who still hadn’t reached the penalty on team fouls in the half, used a couple to make Texarkana burn time. When the Razorbacks finally did get it upcourt, Wilson missed a jumper in the lane and, with :05.2 showing, Brown sank a pair of free throws to ice the victory.
“We had some guys make some big plays down the stretch,” Olberts emphasized. “It was just a real team effort all the way.”
The Hornets stunned the Razorbacks by deploying in a fullcourt press, using halfcourt traps then pushing the ball upcourt on offense, a strategy that Olberts has been moving his team towards in recent games.
“Especially against these teams that are so much bigger than us, just like the other night against El Dorado,” he explained. “We’re a much better team when we go up and down the floor. Even our big guys go up and down the floor pretty well. I thought our press looked good tonight. I thought our halfcourt trap looked good. I thought we forced them into some mistakes. And we did a good job running when we had the opportunity. Once again we got to shoot a lot of free throws and once again we didn’t shoot the percentage we’re going to have to make but we did hit some big ones at the end.”
Bryant forced 22 Texarkana turnovers and shot 50 percent from the field. The attacking style on offense also produced 28 free-throw attempts to Texarkana’s 11.
The Hornets never trailed in the first half. The game was tied at 7 but James scored off a drive and dish by Brown with 5:11 left in the first quarter to put the Hornets up to stay.
Whittington canned a jumper from the corner and, after Moseley scooped one in for Texarkana, drained a jumper in the lane over Burks to make it 13-9.
Later, Whittington made a steal that led to a three-point play by Josh Carroll and a 16-9 lead.
Tarrance Johnson and Thomas traded free throws and, after Johnson hit a jumper, Bryant’s Brian Harris drove the baseline for a bucket to make it 19-12.
The Hornets led 21-18 going into the second quarter.
Texarkana cut the lead to 2 but Bryant pushed it back out to as much as 8 with a flurry midway through the quarter. The run was highlighted by James’ lean-in banker. Brown and Thomas then combined on a steal that led to a trip to the line for Tad Beene who converted twice with 3:14 left in the period to make it 29-21.
But, by the end of the quarter, Texarkana had whittled the margin back to 1, 32-31.
The Razorbacks surged into the lead early in the third quarter but couldn’t get more than 4 points up. It was 43-39 going into the last two minutes of the period. Brown drove for a layup to cut it to 2 then the Hornets forced turnover and Thomas was fouled. He hit one free throw then Brown and Carroll combined on a theft that Carroll cashed in with a fallaway jumper in the lane to regain the lead for the Hornets, 44-43.
Whittington’s running jumper started the fourth-quarter scoring before Burks tied it with a 3, beginning the Razorbacks’ move into the lead that Bryant ultimately overcame.
The win evened the Hornets overall record at 7-7 going into Friday’s contest at Pine Bluff.