By Rob Patrick
LITTLE ROCK — With under a minute to play, the game between the freshmen of the Bryant[more] Hornets and Little Rock Catholic Rockets were tied 32-32. The Hornets had forced a turnover and had spread the floor with plans to run down the clock, take a timeout and set up a potential win-or-overtime play.
But Catholic’s Chad Wharton spoiled the strategy with a steal and a layup to put his team ahead. After a timeout, however, the Hornets tied it again when Kevin Hunt nailed a pull-up jumper from near the left elbow of the lane with :17 showing.
The Rockets rushed up the floor and got the ball to Andrew Dale, who drove the left side of the lane where Bryant’s Clay Ingold set up to try to take a charge. But Dale stepped around Ingold, scored and was fouled with :05.5 showing on the clock.
Dale completed the three-point play and, after a final timeout by the Hornets’ head coach Mike Simmons, a long inbounds pass was intercepted. The Rockets’ Lance Thomas hit a layup at the buzzer to close out a 39-34 win.
The final difference matched the largest of the game for either team.
The Rockets led 32-27 going into the final two minutes when Bryant rallied. Hunt hit a 3 and the Hornets forced a turnover. But a 3-point try by Kris Croom refused to go.
Catholic spread the floor on offense and, with 1:21 left, Wharton was fouled. But he missed both of his free throws, giving the Hornets another shot at tying the game or taking the lead.
Hunt rebounded the second miss and drove to the other end only to have his driving layup roll off the rim. But the Hornets forced another turnover and, this time, Croom knocked down a 12-footer to knot it up at 32. Another turnover gave Bryant its chance to work the clock before Wharton’s steal.
Croom led the Hornets with 11 points. Hunt had 7, Cameron Murray 6 with Jaylen Jones and Simeon Watson 5 each. Thomas paced Catholic with 13. Dale finished with 11, Wharton 7. Joe Meyers kicked in 6 and Dylan Thompson 3.
The Hornets out-rebounded the Rockets 26-21 but shot 13 of 39 from the field while Catholic was connecting on 15 of 30 shots.
Bryant had a chance to establish a considerable edge at the start of the game. While holding the Rockets scoreless for the first 3:35 of the game, however, they were only able to build a 5-0 lead. In fact, the Rockets turned the ball over on their first five possessions. Their first shot attempt came at the 3:01 mark of the first quarter.
Croom had scored on a layup off the first Catholic miscue. Hunt added a basket off a nice feed from Watson then Murray hit a free throw to make it 5-0.
Dale got the Rockets on the board at the 2:25 mark and, in turn, Jones scored inside to make it 7-2.
A 3-pointer by Meyers made it 7-5 at the first break. Wharton’s driving layup tied the game as the second quarter began but Croom knocked down a 3 and the lead went back and forth.
The game was tied at 13 going into the final 30 seconds but a stickback by Croom gave Bryant a 2-point edge at the half.
Catholic scored the first two baskets of the second half to regain the advantage but Watson hit a layup to tie it again. Thomas countered but when Watson answered with a 3, Bryant was back up 20-19. Croom added a pair of free throws to make it a 3-point edge.
Free throws by Dale cut the Bryant margin to 1 at the 3:28 mark of the third quarter and it stayed that way for a while as both teams produced opportunities only to fail to cash them in. Finally, with 1:35 left in the period, Dale hit a free throw that tied it. And when the Rockets scored off consecutive Bryant turnovers in the final minute, they established a 27-22 lead.
Jones beat the buzzer with a jump hook high off the glass to stem the tide and making it a 3-point game going into the final six minutes.
But the Hornets were unable to regain the lead. Trailing 29-25, the Hornets missed three chances to whittle on the lead before Catholic took a timeout with 4:00 left. The Rockets returned to the floor in a spread yet the scrambling Hornets were able to eventually draw even only to suffer through the disappointing finish.
The Hornets will try to bounce back from the gut-punch loss when they host Conway Blue on Thursday for their final game before the Christmas break.