Hornets notch road conference 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
PINE BLUFF — After being trampled in their own gym in their 7A-Central Conference opener against the Little Rock Catholic Rockets, the Bryant Hornets didn’t get much time to feel sorry for themselves. The next day, a Saturday when they usually would’ve been off, the Hornets were back in the gym working at the behest of coaches Mark Smith and Chad Withers.
And, after the 62-37 loss in which they got down 18-0 right off the bat, the Hornets were working almost exclusively on defense.
When the Hornets hit the road to McFadden Gym in Pine Bluff on Tuesday, Jan. 8, they found a way to forge a crucial 59-49 victory over the Zebras to even their league record.
“Big win,” Smith emphasized. “Anytime you can go on the road in this conference and win, it’s really a big win for you.”
The team still struggled early, however, falling behind 9-1 before a three-point play by senior Hunter Sample broke the ice with 4:36 left in the first quarter.
Gradually, the Hornets got back in it and, with a push at the end of the half, actually tied the game before a last-second basket gave Pine Bluff a 26-24 edge at the half. They still didn’t manage a lead until the 2:26 mark of the third quarter but once they had, they held on, converting 15 of 18 free throws in the fourth quarter to thwart the Zebras’ comeback hopes.
“I told them before the game, ‘Guys, it’s going to happen again where we’re going to get down like we did (against Catholic),’” Smith related. “’Now, hopefully, we don’t ever dig a hole as deep as we did then but what we have to do is you’ve got to just chip away like the girls did the game before us.’ And we stayed with our stuff and that’s what we did.
“The execution was really good tonight,” he noted. “I was really proud of how everyone played. They didn’t get rattled, even when we got down early. We just battled back.”
The effort was sparked by junior forward Tim Floyd who came off the bench to score a game-high 21 points and gather nine rebounds. Point guard Brandon Cowart added 14 points including six consecutive free throws in the fourth quarter with two-guard Zach Lewis, despite early foul trouble, pitching in with 10 points including a 6-for-6 performance at the line.
“The guys really stepped up and took care of the ball late in the game and hit our free throws,” Smith acknowledged. “That was really big. Everybody that stepped to the line seemed like they knocked them down. If they didn’t get both of them, they got one.
“Tim stepped up big,” he added. “He just seemed to hit shots when we needed them and credit the other four guys that were on the floor with him. They found him too when we needed a big shot. They did a really good job.”
And the defense? Pine Bluff shot just 32 percent from the field with 17 turnovers.
“I thought Coach Withers made some really good calls defensively to kind of keep (the Zebras) offset,” Smith mentioned. “And the guys executed.”
Floyd, just a couple of minutes after he’d dunked on the Zebras, sparked the Hornets’ second-quarter run with a 3 that cut a 9-point deficit to 21-15.
The two teams went two minutes without the score changing (an interval that was lengthened by Pine Bluff’s Dante Williams, who got sick as he was dribbling the ball up the floor with 3:11 left in the half).
Cowart finally broke through with a free throw. Pine Bluff’s Stephan Collins knocked down three in consecutive trips but then Cowart canned a 3 to make it 24-19. Sample blocked a shot by Collins and, at the other end, Floyd hit a layup. Pine Bluff turned the ball over and Sample added a free throw with :31.1 left. And when Floyd rebounded the missed second free throw and tossed it in, the game was tied at 24.
After Collins hit the buzzer-beater and Cameron Luckett opened the second half with a 3, the Hornets were playing from behind again. They eventually tied it again at 33 on a layup by Cowart and a pair of free throws by Floyd.
It was 35-35 before Lewis drove for a layup at the 2:26 mark to give Bryant its first lead. Sample added a free throw and the advantage was 38-35 going into the fourth period.
Taylor Masters, fouled on his second follow shot, added a free throw and again Floyd snared the carom off the missed second try and scored to bump the lead to 41-35.
Floyd then made a steal and missed a shot but Lewis was there to stick it back in for a 43-35 lead.
A three-point play by Pine Bluff’s Desmon Hunter cut the margin to 5 but the Zebras never got any closer as the Hornets’ free throw shooting clinic commenced. Floyd’s driving layup at the 3:58 mark was Bryant’s lone field goal in final seven minutes.