By Rob Patrick
VAN BUREN — The Van Buren Lady Pointers were playing their first 7A/6A-Central Conference home[more] game Tuesday night, sporting a sparkling 13-2 overall record including a road league win over Little Rock Central. All of which had garnered a No. 2 ranking among Class 6A teams by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
But the Bryant Lady Hornets put a wrench in the works, making the plays they had to make down the stretch to stun the Lady Pointers, 49-46.
“I’m proud of our kids,” declared Bryant coach Brad Matthews. “It was a great win on the road. To win on the road in this league — this is a tough place to play. It’s a really well-coached team over there. Even though it wasn’t always pretty, from a mentality standpoint, I thought we kept fighting.
“It’s a great win for our kids,” he added. “Hopefully, it’ll be a great building block going towards the killer schedule in this conference.”
The Lady Hornets face probably their toughest stretch of games over the next two weeks starting with a Russellville team coming to Bryant on Friday. Earlier this season, the Lady Cyclones pinned a 61-37 loss on the Lady Hornets at the end of a tournament in Fort Smith.
But that was the Lady Hornets third day in a row to be playing in that tourney. So far this season, when they have at least a day to prepare, the Bryant girls are 9-1.
Kiara Moore converted a pair of free throws with :06.1 left to secure the win but not after plenty of tense moments leading up to that.
Bryant led 45-40 with 2:22 left to play but a layup off a lob by Malorie Brown and a basket as she was being fouled by Kirbey Blake trimmed the lead to 1. Blake, who led all scorers with 21 points in the game, could’ve tied it by completing the three-point play but her free throw rimmed out.
Taneasha Rhode rebounded for Bryant and, at the other end, took a feed from Dezerea Duckworth for a layup the pushed the lead back to 3. Rhode, back on defense, blocked a shot and teammate Logan Davis scrambled after the deflection.
Having committed just four team fouls to that point, the Lady Pointers started fouling and got it to six before forcing a turnover. Blake’s layup made it a 1-point game with :38 left.
After a timeout, Van Buren forced another miscue to gain a chance to tie or take the lead. But Bryant’s defense stepped up and the Lady Pointers, who appeared to be willing to go for the last shot, had to scramble to retain possession against the Lady Hornets’ defense until, with :08.4 showing, they forced a turnover when Blake and teammate Britney Campbell tried to work a give and go. The pass after the 'give' sailed out of bounds.
Moore was fouled with :06.1 showing then the Lady Hornets stole the ball in the backcourt to prevent even a desperation shot at the end.
“We got beat off the dribble a lot tonight just like we did against Mount St. Mary,” Matthews said, referring to his team’s conference-opening win at home on Friday. “The last possession against Mount and the last possession tonight, we guarded as well as we can guard. If we can carry that over to the other 31 minutes and 30 seconds of the game, my stress level would be a lot less.”
The coach praised his team’s rebounding, particularly the fact that it limited Van Buren’s second-chance opportunities.
“That has been an Achilles heel of ours all year, giving up offensive rebounds,” he said. “I thought, for the most part, we did a lot better job tonight. I thought our defense did a good job of not giving up as many free points even though we got beat off the dribble a lot in the second half. Some of that was mismatches. We were trying to keep some people out of foul trouble with some matchups in the second half.”
Rhode finished with 20 points and Moore had 17. Duckworth finished with 6.
“Kiara made those two big free throws,” Matthews mentioned. “And she took care of the ball for us. We put her on (Blake) there at the end. She had some foul trouble early and we obviously need her on the floor. I thought she was really competitive tonight.”
Rhode took a turn for a while covering Blake as well.
“I thought Logan Davis really defended well tonight,” the coach asserted. “I don’t think she came off the floor and she’s got some injury problems.
“Van Buren’s skilled,” Matthews related. “They’ve got three, four, five kids out there that can score the basketball and that puts pressure on any kind of defense. I thought, as a team, we guarded well especially when it counted down the stretch.”
The teams were separated by no more than 2 points most of the first half. Bryant had a 4-0 lead on a pair of Rhode baskets right off the bat but the game was tied at 10 late in the first quarter before Rhode scored inside again.
Courtney Davidson fed her for a bucket to start the second quarter, giving Bryant a 14-10 lead. But Van Buren came back with a flourish that produced an 18-14 edge.
The Lady Pointers were unable to score in the final 3:30 of the half, however, and the Lady Hornets kept pumping inside to Rhode. Davis made a steal and fed her for a layup to start a 6-0 run that had Bryant up 20-18 at the half.
The game was tied at 22 and 24. In the latter situation, Whitney Meyer, who apparently suffered a broken nose in the first half but kept on playing, grabbed an offensive rebound and scored. The Lady Hornets had a chance to increase the margin but suffered a turnover that Blake cashed in with a 3 that gave Van Buren the lead.
Duckworth scored off a steal and, after Paige Beckner answered for the Lady Pointers, Bryant again closed out the quarter strong. Moore drained a 3 then combined with Davis to force a turnover. Duckworth hit the offensive glass for a basket to make it 33-29.
Another theft by Moore resulted in a layup then Rhode stole a pass and drove for another easy deuce just before the buzzer to end the third quarter. Bryant had the largest lead of the game at 37-29.
But Van Buren made a couple of runs at the Lady Hornets in the fourth quarter but Bryant was unwilling to give up the lead. Free throws by Blake and Beckner then a 3 by Tara Alexander had the Lady Pointers within 37-36. But Moore calmly buried a long 3 from just off the top of the key to keep her team ahead.
It was 41-36 after a free throw by Rhode with 5:26 to go. Brown and Duckworth traded hoops and, going into the final three minutes, Bryant held the 5-point edge that Brown and Blake trimmed to one, setting up the dramatic finish.
The Lady Hornets improved to 10-6 overall and, at 2-0, are one of three teams atop the league, joining Cabot and North Little Rock.