Photos by Rick Nation and Kevin Nagle
The Greenwood Lady Bulldogs have won three straight Class 6A State championships and came into Friday’s 7A/6A-Central Conference game against the Bryant Lady Hornets ranked fourth in the state overall and first in Class 6A, sporting a sparkling 20-1 record. Among those 20 wins was a 71-42 romp over the Lady Hornets on Jan. 9 in the league opener for both teams.
But, in the rematch at the Hornets Nest Friday night, Bryant stayed close the whole game and, with a 6-0 spurt over the final 2:14, overcame a 51-49 deficit and shocked the Lady Bulldogs, 55-51.
Using different tactics against the vaunted 1-3-1 Greenwood zone (which still produced 17 Bryant turnovers), the Lady Hornets were able to get some penetration and either score, get to the free-throw line or kick-out for 3’s. They hit six from long range, four by freshman Raija Todd and two huge ones by senior Jakeria Otey in the final 3:30. The first one tied the game at 49, the next one put the Lady Hornets ahead 52-51.
Bryant forced a Greenwood turnover and Otey hit a jumper off a drive in the lane to make it 54-51. Lauren Carroll added a clinching free throw with 1:03 left.
With :31.8 to go, Greenwood’s Peyton Clements went to the line with a one-and-one, a chance to make it a one-possession game again, but missed the front end. Carroll rebounded and the Lady Hornets were able to run out the clock and celebrate the upset victory.
“We had little to no success when we went to Greenwood,” acknowledged Bryant coach Brad Matthews. “I have to take a lot of blame for that. In hindsight, I didn’t have a very good plan up there. It’s my job to put our kids in spots to have success and I thought tonight, as a team, we had a really good team win where a lot of kids made some plays.
“I thought we were able to execute against their 1-3-1,” he added. “I thought we made plays down the stretch. We did enough in the first three quarters to hang around. Then we made some shots in the fourth quarter. And I thought we secured a lot of rebounds in the fourth quarter as well on the defensive end.
“I couldn’t be happier for our kids,” the coach stated. “They’ve been working hard. It’s good this time of year to see that hard work come to fruition.”
Otey led all scorers with 17 points. Todd added 14. But the Lady Hornets got a big lift from junior center Rachel Miller who scored a season-high 9 points and hauled in a season-high 11 rebounds.
Bryant out-boarded the taller Lady Bulldogs, 38-29.
Carroll added 7 points but her primary contribution was putting the clamps on Greenwood star Megan Hartness, a Divison I college prospect and the leading scorer in the conference. Otey and Emily Ridgell also guarded Hartness when Carroll was in foul trouble or getting a breather.
Hartness scored 13 points. Clements led Greenwood with 16 and Brittney Branum and Maddie Goodner added 9 each.
“They’re so talented,” said Matthews, who once served as an assistant to Clay Reeves at Greenwood. “Coach Reeves, his record speaks for itself. He’s a Hall of Fame coach in this state. He runs a top quality program. They do such a good job with their kids. They’re so well coached that, even after you have a little success, they do great job of adapting to what you’re doing and matching up. But our kids continued to play hard.
“Anytime you beat a quality team like Greenwood, ranked as high as they are, two or three times State champions — Clay’s got what, six or eight rings — it’s definitely going to boost our confidence.
“But the thing about this new set up is, if we don’t go to Mount on Tuesday and play well, it’s all for naught,” stressed Matthews. “Next week is about the State Tournament. We’ve got two of the three 7A teams next week. As good as this win is and as well as we played in the fourth quarter, if we don’t play well next week, it’s kind of for naught.”
The win over the Lady Bulldogs counts in the overall conference standings but it has no bearing on Bryant’s bid to make the Class 7A State Tournament. It doesn’t have any effect on Greenwood’s bid to get to the 6A State tourney either. Only games against league teams in your own classification count towards making State.
The Lady Hornets play at Mount St. Mary Academy on Tuesday then host Van Buren on Friday. Both are 7A teams.
“That’s the way the system is set up and we have to respond to that next week,” Matthews asserted. “Mount is a big game. Next week will tell a lot about our season.”
In Friday’s win, Bryant gave an indication that this was a different night than the previous meeting between the two teams when they dashed to a 7-2 lead.
Hartness got the first basket but a stickback by Miller tied it. Later, she added a free throw to put the Lady Hornets ahead. A drive for a layup by Todd and two free throws by Otey capped the run.
Hartness’ follow shot interrupted but Todd corded her first 3 and it was 10-4.
Bryant maintained the lead through the end of the first quarter. Ridgell hit a free throw and added a jumper from the corner off a feed from Otey to make it 13-8. A layup by Goodner made it a 3-point game going into the second stanza.
The game was tied at 13 then the lead started to seesaw. Greenwood went up 16-15 but free throws by Miller put Bryant back up. Clements drained a 3 but Bryant’s Kendall Rogers grabbed an offensive rebound and scored to tie it again.
Later, it was tied at 21 and Greenwood closed out the half with a 5-1 stretch, taking a 26-22 lead into the locker room.
The Lady Bulldogs led by as much as 6 in the third quarter but a 3 by Todd and a drive by Otey closed the gap to 1. The teams traded baskets the rest of the quarter, which ended with Greenwood clinging to a 37-36 lead. The period was punctuated by Todd’s third triple off a drive and kick by Carroll.
The freshman then started the final quarter with her fourth 3, putting the Lady Hornets back on top for the first time since early in the second quarter.
The game was tied at 39, 41, 44, 46 and 49 down the stretch. With Greenwood up 43-42 after a drive by Hartness, Miller knocked down a big bucket from eight feet out on the left baseline. Otey followed with a steal but Hartness stole it right back and was fouled. She converted once to tie it at 44.
Carroll drove and nailed a pull-up jumper. Hartness answered again. Otey missed the front end of a one-and-one with 3:52 left and Greenwood took advantage with a three-point play by Branum that looked like it might turn the tide in the Lady Bulldogs’ favor.
But Otey knotted it back up with a 3. An offensive-rebound basket by Clements with 2:34 left had Greenwood back on top but it proved to be the last of the Lady Bulldogs’ scoring. Otey’s go-ahead 3 followed at 2:14.
LADY HORNETS 55, LADY BULLDOGS 51
Score by quarters
Greenwood 10 16 11 14 — 51
BRYANT 13 9 14 19 — 55
LADY BULLDOGS (20-2, 7-1) 51
Henson 0-3 0-0 0, Hartness 5-14 3-5 13, Clements 6-7 3-5 16, Branum 3-7 3-4 9, Elkins 2-12 0-0 4, Young 0-1 0-0 0, Goodner 3-10 3-5 9, Jewell 0-1 0-0 0, Rozell 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-55 (35%) 12-19 (63%) 51.
LADY HORNETS (12-9, 4-4) 55
Otey 5-14 5-7 17, Carroll 3-3 1-5 7, Baxter 1-3 0-0 2, Todd 5-7 0-0 14, Miller 2-2 5-7 9, Ridgell 1-6 1-2 3, Rogers 1-1 0-0 2, Martin 0-2 1-2 1. Totals 18-38 (47%) 13-23 (57%) 55.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 6-14 (Todd 4-6, Otey 2-5, Ridgell 0-2, Baxter 0-1), Greenwood 1-9 (Clements 1-1, Henson 0-3, Branum 0-2, Goodner 0-2, Hartness 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 17, Greenwood 7. Rebounds: Bryant 11-27 38 (Miller 1-10 11, Ridgell 3-5 8, Otey 2-3 5, Carroll 2-3 5, Todd 0-3 3, Baxter 0-1 1, Rogers 1-0 1, team 2-2 4), Greenwood 15-14 29 (Branum 4-5 9, Elkins 3-3 6, Hartness 2-3 5, Clements 3-1 4, Goodner 1-1 2, Young 1-0 1, team 1-1 2). Team fouls: Bryant 19, Greenwood 20. Technical foul: Greenwood bench.