Two teams expecting to be among the best in the state played a preseason benefit game at the newly spruced up Hornets Nest Saturday afternoon and it was a benefit game unlike most.
Realizing that it was a genuine early test, a challenge to their hopes and expectations, the Bryant Hornets and the Maumelle Hornets got after it with high intensity and maximum effort for an end-to-end thrill ride.
Bryant enters the season with most of the squad back that came a basket away from making the Class 7A State championship game. Maumelle returns a bunch of the players that vaulted them to the Class 5A State final before losing in overtime to Forrest City.
The two teams have had some wild, high-scoring battles in recent years as part of a tournament that used to be held at Central Arkansas Christian Academy each season.
On Saturday, Bryant led early and late, eventually rallying after falling behind by as much as 13 in the second half, to extract a 61-53 victory that was punctuated by Lowell Washington’s dunk at the final buzzer.
“That was a State Tournament atmosphere-type game,” acknowledged Bryant head coach Mike Abrahamson. “We’ve not had a benefit game like that. That was a battle. Maumelle’s really good, really athletic, really talented, really deep, really skilled — big and with good shooters that hurt us.
“But our kids really impressed me in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter with the way that they battled back from getting down,” he asserted.
Abrahamson, however, urged his team and fans to remember that it was a benefit game.
“First of all, I want to congratulate (Bryant football) Coach (Buck) James and his staff and his players for making history last night,” he said, referring to the Hornets’ 23-16 win at Springdale Har-Ber to advance to the Class 7A semifinals for the first time in the history of the program. “I don’t think many people saw this coming after their benefit game.
“It doesn’t determine our season,” the coach said of his team’s benefit game. “Our football team has taught everyone that. The benefit game is the benefit game. It’s just the beginning of your season, of the journey. And we’ve got another 30 games or 31 potentially. We can’t get too high about what happened in the second half or too down about the first half. We’ve just got to take it and use the experience to get better.”
As an indication of how competitive the game was, there were 54 fouls between the two teams as they also combined for 51 turnovers.
“What I wanted to find out, more than anything; my objective for the day was to see who was going to play the way they’re taught to play in practice; who’s going to play the game that way?” Abrahamson related. “I really felt, at halftime, we were learning some hard lessons about some realities and truths about our team that were uncomfortable. We had too many turnovers when (senior point guard) Calvin (Allen) was out. Our players looked a little intimidated.
“In the second half, when they changed their mindset and focused on their job and playing hard — well, they can be whatever they want to be,” he added.
Bryant was rolling to start the game, running out to a 9-0 lead. Allen was in the middle of it all. He fed Washington for the first basket then added a pair of free throws. Kaleb Turner hit one from the line then made a steal and a layup. Off another Maumelle turnover, Allen fed Romen Martin for a layup and it was 9-0.
Though Maumelle found its footing, the Hornets maintained the lead at the end of the quarter thanks, in part to a basket by Deron Canada off a feed from Christian McIntosh, who was in for Allen, after he’d picked up his second foul.
It was 11-9 at the end of the quarter, thanks in part to a late 3 from Maumelle’s Patrick Greene, the first of his five triples in the game. He would finish as the game-high scorer with 21 off the bench.
Maumelle managed to tie the game early in the second quarter and Abrahamson had to bring Allen back to help calm things down. He snapped the tie with a three-point play at the 6:01 mark then added a pair of free throws moments later.
Abrahamson got his point guard back out and, again, Maumelle surged, closing out the half with an 18-3 run.
Bryant’s last lead of the half was 20-19 with 2:44 left when Braylon Steen hit a 12-footer off a dish from Martin.
“Calvin gets in foul trouble then that’s when everything kind of goes bad,” Abrahamson observed. “That shows his value to us.
“We know we’re going to make mistakes,” he added. “All of them are going to make mistakes every game. We’re going to be concerned with what kind of mistake it was. Was it an aggressive mistake or passive mistake? Then, secondly, what do they do after the mistake?
“I saw some hanging of heads and some poor body language in the first half but quite the opposite of that in the second half. I hope they learned that we have players that are very capable and that we don’t have to just rely on Calvin.”
After Greene popped a 3 to start the third quarter, the Hornets started whittling on the advantage with free throws from Washington and Steen. But Allen picked up his fourth foul and was back on the bench.
Despite that, this time, Bryant kept up the pressure. Turner and Steen combined on a steal that led to a layup for Turner. Washington hit the offensive glass for a bucket and Bryant got within 6 before Greene connected on back-to-back treys. The second came with 2:36 left in the quarter.
But that was the last Maumelle basket of the period. Canada fed Martin for a basket inside. Sam Chumley hit a free throw and, off a Maumelle turnover, drilled a triple with :07 showing. Another Maumelle miscue and Chumley was fouled on a 3-point try at the buzzer. He converted twice and suddenly the Hornets were within 42-40.
And when McIntosh converted two free throws to start the fourth, the game was deadlocked.
“In the second half, (Calvin’s) still in foul trouble and those same kids that were out there when we went from having a lead to being down in the first half — they’re the same ones that started bringing us back in the second half,” Abrahamson noted. “Christian McIntosh had a great second half. Sam Chumley made some good plays in the second half. K.T. (Turner) made some great plays in the second half, including a big charge. Deron had a great second half. That kid’s motor is unmatched.”
But Maumelle reasserted itself and refused to allow Bryant to take a lead for much of the final quarter. When Green converted a pair of free throws with 3:11 left, it was 51-46.
A key moment followed.
“There was a play where Braylon gets a couple of offensive rebounds and, on the second one, ends up getting fouled,” Abrahamson recalled. “And it was just a great effort by him. He’s getting banged around as we were all game.
“I felt like that kind of changed the tone for our players, to really quit worrying about everything else and just complete, and try to do what they’re supposed to do out there no matter what the environment or the opponent or whatever. There’s a lot of things we can’t control. We just have to play through those.”
After being cited for the foul on Steen, Maumelle star Tremont Robinson expressed his frustration and picked up a technical foul. So Steen knocked down his free throws and Allen added another one to trim the lead to 51-49 with 2:58 to go.
On the subsequent possession, Allen was fouled again and converted once to make it a one-point game.
Greene missed twice at the line so when Allen stepped to the line with 2:02 to go, his free throws put the home team in the lead.
Maumelle’s Quan Richardson had a 3 go down and rim out. Maumelle retained possession on the rebound but Martin made a crucial theft and, though he missed, Steen was there with one of his 12 rebounds to score.
With Bryant up 54-51, Maumelle head coach Michael Shook, a Bryant alum, called timeout. When play resumed, John Word drove for a bucket cutting the Bryant lead to 54-53 with :54 to go.
And Maumelle forced a turnover to ratchet up the momentum. But they were unable to take advantage. Steen was fouled on the rebound and coolly drained two free throws with :53.9 showing to make it 56-53, but still a one-possession lead.
At the other end, the Hornets came out on Greene as he eyed a 3-point try. So he drove around the defense toward the basket. His shot went down but was wiped out because Turner had set up to take a change.
“That was a huge play, huge,” Abrahamson emphasized.
It was all the more so when Shook, frustrated much of the second half, was hit with a technical with :22.6 left in the game. Steen hit a free throw and, on the subsequent possession, Allen earned a trip to the line to make it 59-53.
Word misfired and the Hornets got the ball ahead of the defense to Washington for the slam.
Allen finished with a team-high 15 points. Steen added 13 points to go with his big night on the boards.
Bryant will open the 2016-17 season in earnest when Greenbrier, a league rival of Maumelle’s, comes to town on Tuesday, Nov. 29.
BRYANT 61, MAUMELLE 53
Score by quarters
Maumelle 9 22 11 11 — 53
BRYANT 11 10 19 21 — 61
Hamilton 1-3 2-2 4, Richardson 3-6 1-2 7, Word 1-1 2-2 4, T.Robinson 6-12 0-3 13, Barnes 0-1 0-0 0, Lindsey 0-3 0-0 0, Ali 1-4 0-1 2, Greene 7-16 2-6 21, Curtis 1-2 0-1 2, E.Robinson 0-0 0-0 0, Thompson 0-1 0-0 0, Harris 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-49 7-16 53.
Martin 2-11 1-2 5, Allen 1-6 13-15 15, Turner 2-3 1-3 5, Steen 3-9 7-10 13, Washington 3-3 1-2 7, Chumley 1-2 3-5 6, McIntosh 0-4 4-7 4, Canada 2-6 2-3 6, Lambert 0-1 0-1 0. Totals 14-45 32-48 61.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 1-10 (Chumley 1-2, Martin 0-5, Steen 0-2, Allen 0-1), Maumelle 6-18 (Greene 5-11, T.Robinson 1-4, Richardson 0-2, Lindsey 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 23, Maumelle 28. Rebounds: Bryant 16-24 40 (Steen 5-7 12, Canada 3-3 6, Turner 0-5 5, Martin 2-1 3, Allen 1-2 3, Washington 1-2 3, Chumley 0-2 2, McIntosh 1-0 1, team 3-2 5), Maumelle 9-24 33 (Ali 3-4 7, Hamilton 2-2 4, Richardson 0-4 4, Word 1-2 3, T.Robinson 1-2 3, Curtis 1-2 3, Barnes 0-1 1, Lindsey 0-1 1, Greene 0-1 1, E.Robinson 0-1 1, team 1-3 4). Team fouls: Bryant 22, Maumelle 32. Fouled out: Bryant, Chumley; Maumelle, Lindsey, T.Robinson. Technical fouls: T.Robinson, Coach Shook.