By Rob Patrick
CABOT — Marcus Wilson wasn’t there. And then he[more] was.
With 1:44 left to play, the Cabot Panthers were clinging to one-point lead, with possession of the ball and a timeout. They were, no doubt, making plans to run some clock, shoot some free throws and, for the second time this season, eke out a 7A/6A-Central Conference win over the Bryant Hornets.
And this time, they would be taking a large step towards keeping their hopes alive for qualifying for the Class 7A State Tournament.
After the timeout, the Panthers prepared to inbounds the ball on the side adjacent to their bench. Cabot’s inbounder looked at his teammates then looked away for a fraction of a second to take the ball from the official. In that instant, Wilson, who had been out of the players’ line of sight, jumped in front of his pass, picked it off and headed to the other end with a taller Cabot player on his heels. Despite the height advantage of the Panthers’ defender, Wilson got to the rim and sank the layup, just rolling his shot over the rim.
Suddenly, Bryant held a 39-38 lead.
Seconds later, the Hornets’ Jordan Griffin swiped the ball from a driving Cabot player and it was Bryant that wound up milking the clock and beginning a parade to the free throw line.
By converting 7 of 10 free throws in the final minute, the Hornets stunned the Panthers, 46-41, and clinched a return trip to Cabot’s spanking new Panthers Arena for the 2012 Class 7A State Tournament.
It’s the first trip to State for a Bryant boys team since 2008 and, with the Lady Hornets earning a bid as well, it’s the first time since 2002 that both have reached the post-season in the same year.
“I’m still kind of not sure how we won that game,” stated Hornets coach Mike Abrahamson, who’s in his second year at the school. “Marcus, out of that timeout — I told them that I wanted everybody to play really tight man. I wanted Marcus to be back there like a safety and just read it. I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t expect it to go as smoothly as it did. Then he came down and got it converted on that layup, which was big.
“We got a lot of stops,” he noted. “But it didn’t really seem like a lot was going our way. It was just a will to win was what, I thought, got us over the hump. We missed a lot of free throws. We turned it over more than I’d like. We out-rebounded them but we didn’t kill them on the boards. They shot it (percentage-wise) in the 40’s, in the 50’s in the first half. And we only took two charges. We like to take more. Statistically, we didn’t reach any of the things we look for but the will to win was just incredible tonight.”
The coach said, though he knew a win would get his team in, he didn’t talk to his players about it leading up to the game.
“I didn’t bring it up because I don’t know if it would’ve put any extra stress on them,” he allowed. “I just didn’t bring it up because I wanted us to approach this game like every other game. We’ll do that for Tuesday’s game too.”
With two games to go, the Hornets have an outside chance to finish as high as second in the ratings that determine seeding for State. They stand in third but have the opportunity to make a move toward catching second-place North Little Rock on Senior Night at the Hornets Nest on Tuesday, Feb. 21, when the Charging Wildcats will be visiting.
Bryant finishes at Little Rock Central on Friday, Feb. 24.
“It’s something I realize is important,” Abrahamson said of reaching State. “It means a lot to me. I think when the season’s over, I’ll do a lot of reflecting on that. I don’t want to lose an edge. I like how we prepare, I like how we practice, I want to stick to what we do. I don’t want to break from that. But, yes, it is an accomplishment. It’s something very special to me and special to these guys on the team. But, we’re not done.”
The Hornets have won five of their last six games. They’re now 15-9 overall, 7-5 in conference play.
They really had to earn the win over Cabot in a game that could’ve gotten really ugly because of the physical play. There seemed to be more than the usual 7A-Central Conference hip-checking, shoulder-bumping, hand-checking roughness. In fact, there were a number of occasions when Bryant players just got shoved. And, though it didn’t always go unnoticed by the officials, it was missed just enough times to create some genuine anger in the stands.
The culmination of that came when, midway through the third quarter, Hornets senior Brantley Cozart and a Cabot player were trailing the play near midcourt. All three officials had their backs turned to the duo, following the ball. Inadvertently or not, the Cabot player put a shoulder into Cozart, who was off stride when the contact occurred. He went sprawling, hit the floor and began writhing in pain, clutching his right wrist at the feet of one of the officials.
The rule on stopping play for an injury is: “In case of an injury to a player, the official may stop play. If the ball is in play when the injury occurs, the officials shall wait to stop the game until the team with the injury gets possession of the ball. Exception: when necessary to protect an injured player, the officials may stop play immediately.”
Since Cozart was near midcourt and play continued in the front court, time was not called until the Panthers had scored. So when that took three offensive rebounds before it occurred, Cozart went unattended for enough time that the Bryant fans and coaches were understandably irate when time was finally called.
Though Cozart was treated in the courtside training room and later returned to the game to finish it, the incident had its affect on the Hornets. And they showed their maturity and grit by not responding in kind. Rather, it seemed to re-focus them, to ratchet up their intensity, to bring out that will to win Abrahamson mentioned.
“When Brantley went down that really changed things,” Abrahamson acknowledged. “Every single young man on our team had a different sort of look in his eye, those on the bench as much as the ones in the game. And I’m really proud of them for coming together.
“You know, we talk about a lot of stuff and it’s really encouraging to me and it’s a blessing to me to see it come out in them in situations like that,” he said of the response. “We had a lot of opportunities to hang our heads, to give up and to blame other things and we never did. Boy, it’s going to be a special memory for me.”
The Hornets worked the clock down to :59.4 after Griffin’s steal. That’s when Quinton Motto was fouled and another key play followed. Motto converted the first free throw to make it a 40-38 lead. His second missed but Wilson and Anthony Black contested two taller Cabot players for the rebound and it went out of bounds off the Panthers.
So they had to foul again on Bryant’s inbounds play. With :39.7 left, Griffin toed the line and converted twice to make it a two-possession game.
Cabot’s Sam Howe got a layup with :24 showing, trimming the lead to 2. Cabot called a timeout then when play resumed, couldn’t keep the Hornets from inbounding the ball. Black was fouled with :16.5 on the clock. Howe, who led his team with 13 points and seven rebounds, fouled out on the play and Black converted once to make it 43-40.
Motto, who had 6 points, seven boards and three blocked shots, fouled out with :10.8 showing. Cabot’s Arthur West was only able to get one of his two free throws to go so when Griffin sank a pair with :09.5 to go, the Hornets victory seemed secured.
Brian Shrum missed a 3-point try for the Panthers and Griffin added another free throw to set the final score.
It was Bryant’s largest lead of the game. The Hornets never held more than the 3-point advantage they gained right off the bat when Griffin buried a game-opening triple.
Cabot held a 9-8 lead at the end of the first quarter. The lead continued to seesaw in the second quarter. It was 11-11 before Cozart dished to Zach Cambron for a basket with 5:16 left in the half to put the Hornets back on top. Adam Rock hit a layup for Cabot to tie it then Wilson nailed a trey to match the Hornets’ biggest lead.
The Panthers were up 17-16 going into the final minute of the half. Griffin finished the way he started, knocking down a 3 that gave the Hornets a 19-17 edge at the break.
Wilson hit a free throw to start the third quarter scoring. Once again Bryant led by 3. They had a chance to increase the margin when a ball got loose in the backcourt. Black raced back to pick up the ball with a pair of Panthers on his heels. In front of the Cabot bench, one of the home players shoved Black to the floor to get to the ball and it resulted in a layup for Howe amid howls from the Bryant fans.
Cabot took a lead on a layup by J.D. Brunett before Cozart took a feed from Black and flushed a 3 to put Bryant up 23-21.
But that’s when Cabot put together as much of a run as there was in the game, building its largest lead at 29-23 going into the final minute of the third period. It was during that surge that Cozart was injured.
A jumper in the lane by Motto cut into the margin before the end of the quarter then Wilson knocked down another trey to start the fourth quarter as Cozart returned to the game.
Still, the Hornets were unable to catch the Panthers until, with 4:31 left, Black drove the lane and hit a floater over Howe to tie it at 34. At the other end, Motto got a piece of Ryan Stafford’s shot which led to a trip to the line for Black who put the Hornets back in front with a free throw at the 3:53 mark.
The game was tied at 36 after a free throw by Motto at 2:47 then a pair of free throws by Howe gave the Panthers a 2-point edge. With 2:01 showing, Cozart went to the line and, after missing his first shot, converted to make it a one-point game.
Moments later, Cabot called the timeout that set the stage for the stirring conclusion.
HORNETS 46, PANTHERS 41
Score by quarters
BRYANT 8 11 6 21 — 46
Cabot 9 8 12 12 — 41
HORNETS (15-9, 7-5) 46
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Black 4-6 2-4 1-3 4 3 10
Cozart 2-7 1-2 0-0 0 3 7
Griffin 2-4 6-8 0-3 3 1 12
Wilson 3-7 1-2 2-2 4 2 9
Motto 2-4 2-6 1-6 7 5 6
Giles 0-1 0-0 0-1 1 2 0
Cambron 1-1 0-1 0-1 1 0 2
Trudell 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Rainey 0-0 0-0 0-1 1 0 0
Royal 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Team 3-1 4
Total 14-31 12-23 7-18 25 16 46
PANTHERS (13-8, 4-8) 41
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Brunett 2-5 0-0 1-1 2 1 4
Rock 2-2 0-0 0-0 0 2 4
West 1-6 4-7 0-3 3 0 6
Howe 5-8 3-4 1-6 7 5 13
McMahan 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 0
Vaught 0-3 2-2 1-2 3 3 2
Wymer 2-4 0-1 1-1 2 1 4
Smith 1-1 1-4 1-0 1 2 3
Stafford 1-3 0-0 0-2 2 4 2
Shrum 1-2 0-0 0-0 0 0 3
Team 2-0 2
Total 15-34 10-18 7-15 22 19 41
Three-point field goals: Bryant 6-18 (Cozart 2-6, Wilson 2-6, Griffin 2-2, Black 0-2, Giles 0-1, Trudell 0-1), Cabot 1-9 (Shrum 1-2, West 0-3, Brunett 0-1, Howe 0-1, Vaught 0-1, Stafford 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 13, Cabot 10.