CONWAY — With time running out and the Bryant Hornets trailing 34-32, Rodney Lambert leapt up to claim the ball, which had been knocked into the air just to the right of the circle. He barely gathered himself enough to fire up a 3-point shot.
The shot missed but there had been considerable contact by the Conway White defender, who had jumped with Lambert to try to claim the loose ball and could only react and lunge at the Bryant guard as he launched his shot.
Lambert calmly went to the line with :00.7 showing on the clock. He hit the first two of his three shots, tying the game at 34. After a Conway timeout, he returned to the line and coolly drilled the third free throw to provide the Hornets with the winning margin in a 35-34 win.
It was Bryant’s fourth win in its last five games. And just in time for the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference season to start. The Hornets host Benton on Monday to get it started.
At the annual Kameron Hale Invitational Tournament at Lake Hamilton the week after Christmas, the Hornets had defeated Malvern, 53-33, and Hot Springs, 60-38, to reach the finals. Though they lost to the host team for the tourney title, 44-32, they bounced back on Monday with a 38-32 road win against Cabot South setting up the game at Conway White.
In a seesaw battle, it looked like the Hornets were beginning to pull away earlier in the fourth quarter. Lambert, who led all scored with 15 points, scored off the offensive glass then followed up with a steal and layup to give Bryant a 32-27 lead with 3:19 to play.
But the Wampus Cats scored the next 7 points, taking the lead on a driving jumper by Taylor Toliver with :29 left. After both teams took timeouts, the Hornets missed two chances to regain the upper hand. With :14.3 to go, Conway’s Christian Williams was fouled.
At the line, Williams made the first shot but, with a chance to make it a two-possession game (and, for all intents, put the game away), he couldn’t get the second shot to go down.
That left the door open for the Hornets who won it on Lambert’s free throws.
Randy Thomas finished with 8 points and 10 rebounds for Bryant. Kajuan Robinson added 6 points. Blaine Smith, Alex Blair and Tyler O’Neal each had 2 points. Smith hauled down nine boards as the Hornets out-rebounded the Cats 34-26.
The game was tied four times in the first quarter including 8-8 at the end when Blair banked in a shot off a nice feed from Lambert.
To start the second period, Thomas scored off the window and was fouled. Though he missed the free throw, the carom was contested and went out of bounds off of Conway White.
On the inbounds play, O’Neal fed Lambert for a layup and a 14-8 lead.
Sparked by Terry Clardy, who led the Cats with 14 points and 13 rebounds, Conway White put together a push that had the game tied at 14 at intermission.
Clardy then opened the third quarter with a basket and two free throws. Robinson made a steal and fed Lambert for a layup to foil Conway’s chance to add to the 4-point edge.
Clardy followed his own miss to put his team up 20-16 but the Hornets closed out the third quarter with a surge. It was sparked by their press, which forced a 10-second violation as the Cats were unable to get the ball across halfcourt. Robinson converted two free throws and, following another Conway turnover, Josh Robinson fed Thomas for a bucket that tied the game at 20.
Lambert made a steal and, when he was fouled, Conway took a timeout. But when play resumed, Lambert attacked the basket and came through with a three-point play that had the Hornets back in front.
It was 28-24 going into the fourth quarter but a free throw and a basket by Clardy had Conway back within one in the early moments of the final period, setting up Lambert’s back-to-back baskets and the dramatic finish.