Bryant stuns No. 1 Tigers
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
The Bryant Hornets’ 7A-Central Conference game against the No. 1-ranked Little Rock Central Tigers had the makings of a heartbreaker to rival their gut-punch of a loss in overtime at Conway on Jan. 15. Like that game, the Hornets had led most of the way including the fourth quarter.
At Conway, Bryant held a 51-48 lead with 1:09 to play only to have Conway tie it at the buzzer and win it in overtime, 62-59.
Against Central, Bryant held a 52-46 lead with 1:48 left to play. A basket by Central’s Alandise Harris and a quick steal and bucket by Jordan Talbert whittled the margin to 2.
With 1:06 left, the Tigers fouled Bryant’s Hunter Sample. The scorer’s table took the opportunity to make sure that Harris’ shot had not been a 3-pointer and a long discussion about the proper score followed. Central coach Oliver Fitzpatrick argued that it should be 51-51 instead of 52-50 but the correct score was finally settled on.
Meanwhile, Bryant coaches Mark Smith and Chad Withers pulled their team together. When play resumed, they had their best free-throw shooter Chad Knight step to the line instead of Sample who has struggled at the line of late.
At first, Tim Floyd was pulled in by the officials to take the free throws instead of Knight then Central guard Erick Brooks pointed to Sample and the officials agreed.
Sample finally came to the line but couldn’t get either shot to fall. Brooks was fouled moments later and converted once to cut the margin to 1. On the missed second shot, the 6-6 Talbert climbed on Sample’s back and reached over the top of him to get the rebound. And a foul was called on Sample.
Talbert hit one free throw to tie it with 1:00 showing. And, in turn, the Tigers forced a turnover on a quick 10-second violation.
Bryant called a timeout and when play resumed, the Tigers spread the floor with designs on taking a final shot at winning or sending it to overtime. But Smith decided to force their hand and Kaelon Kellybrew was fouled with :25.6 showing. Unfortunately, the foul was committed by the Hornets’ point guard Brandon Cowart who had worked hard all night trying to take care of the ball against constant pressure. He’d scored 7 points in the game and was one of the Hornets’ best free-throw shooters.
Smith explained later that he’d taken a calculated risk in calling for the foul but didn’t want to watch Central set up a last-season shot and hit it without his team getting a chance after that.
As it was, Kellybrew came through with two free throws to give his team its first lead since it was 20-18 early in the second quarter.
Bryant got the ball up the floor and called timeout with :16.5 to try to set something up. When play resumed, plans broke down and forward Taylor Masters started a drive from the right wing only to be cut off and double-teamed. Masters pivoted and whipped a pass back to Zach Lewis on the right wing at the 3-point arc. Completely alone, Lewis gathered himself and drilled the 3 to give the Hornets a 55-54 upset that knocked Central out of first place in the league.
Bryant improved to 11-9 overall and 3-4 in conference play and back in the thick of the competition for a State Tournament bid.
“That was huge,” Smith asserted.
Lewis finished with a game-high 17 points. Chad Knight added 15, Sample 8.
The Hornets had to overcome the usual deficit in free throws. Despite playing at home against a team that played pressure man-to-man defense much of the way, the Hornets shot just 10 free throws to 23 by the Tigers.
The two teams traded surges in the first quarter. Central led 6-8 when Knight grabbed an offensive-rebound and was crunched between two Tigers on the follow shot. Central rushed to the other end and Harris scored as Smith was hit with a technical as he protested the lack of a call on Knight.
Brooks hit both free throws to make it 11-6.
But the Hornets responded with a run to the front. Knight hit his first trey and, after a Tiger turnover, Lewis slashed for a layup that made it 11-11. And when Lewis found Sample for a bucket at the 3:16 mark of the first quarter, Bryant had the lead.
It was 18-18 at the end of the period. Central snapped the tie with the first bucket of the second quarter but when Knight hit a free throw and Sample hauled in the rebound off his missed second and scored, the Hornets had a lead they would maintain until the final seconds of the game.
Knight followed with a 3 and Cowart drove for a layup to make it 26-20. Kellybrew hit a free throw but Sample’s layup with 2:02 left in the half gave the Hornets a 7-point advantage.
But the Tigers rallied and trailed just 30-28 at the break.
Cowart started the second half with a 3 but the Tigers tied it on a basket by Talbert and a 3 by Brooks.
Lewis posted up for a bucket to snap the tie then the teams went back-and-forth for awhile before a short jumper by Floyd extended the margin. Talbert hit a free throw but Masters drove for a basket to make it 39-34.
Again Central closed at the end of the quarter to get within a point going into the final period.
The Hornets answered with another surge of their own. Lewis hit a layup off a nice feed from Dijon Benton then Floyd scored inside. After a Central basket, Lewis hit two free throws and Knight canned a 3 to give the Hornets their largest lead of the game, 48-40, with 3:43 left.