Photos courtesy of Jan Patrick
FORT SMITH — The Bryant Hornets had missed 10 of their first 11 shots in the second half and watched a 12-point halftime lead disappear. By the three-minute mark of the fourth quarter, the Little Rock Hall Warriors had rallied to take a 36-31 lead and had forced a Bryant turnover. Hall coach Jon Coleman took a timeout to set up his team’s delay game.
At the Bryant bench, Hornets head coach Mike Abrahamson was challenging his team vehemently.
“Don’t be afraid to be good,” he exhorted them. “Don’t be afraid of success.”
When play resumed, the Hornets had switched out of their zone and into a man defense with some trapping when the opportunity presented itself.
They forced a turnover and, with 2:30 left, point guard Calvin Allen drove through the Warriors defense and got a contested layup to go.
That was Bryant’s first field goal since Braylen Steen’s turnaround jump on the baseline with 5:50 left in the third quarter.
The Hornets’ comeback bid was buoyed by Shun Juniel missing two free throws at the other end. That set the stage for a pair of dramatic 3-pointers by Romen Martin. The first tied the game at 36. The second gave the Hornets a 39-36 advantage with 1:32 to play.
Bryant closed out a 43-38 win to take the consolation final at the annual Coke Classic at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith on Friday. It was their second win after losing a tough double-overtime game to El Dorado, 80-78, to start the tourney.
The win improves the Hornets to 11-2 on the season going into their 7A-Central Conference opener at home on Friday against the Fort Smith Northside Grizzlies, who won the Classic over Jacksonville.
The game wasn’t over by any means when Martin canned those back-to-back triples, which were his sixth and seventh of the game. With :59 left, Hall’s Mario Goggins drove for a basket and the Warriors called timeout with :56.6 showing.
Goggins led Hall with 16 points.
When play resumed, the Warriors jumped into a three-quarter court zone trap and nearly forced a 10-second violation. But Abrahamson used his last timeout to save the possession and set up an inbounds play that the Hornets executed to a tee. It resulted in a layup for Lowell Washington off a feed from Sam Chumley.
It was still a one-possession game, however. Hall’s Grant Jackson got a look at a tying 3 but it wouldn’t fall. His teammate Antonio Smith rebounded but couldn’t get his follow shot to go.
Steen snatched the carom and the Hornets pushed up the floor with Washington getting behind the defense for a dunk to set the final score.
“I challenged our guys — challenged them a couple of times — and finally they responded,” Abrahamson said. “Romen was so big hitting those 3’s. So big. He got challenged because I thought — we called a timeout and ran a play for him and he didn’t shoot it. And he was open. It worked its way back around to him and he shot it but he hesitated.
“You know, I know these kids so I know what they’re doing,” he asserted. “I just sensed — not just from Romen but from the team in general — tightness, almost fear. You don’t want to be scared of success. We don’t want to be scared of being good. Romen responded and he set the tone by hitting those two 3’s. Then our defense closed it out. We got a couple of layups in the end.”
Regarding Hall’s rally, the coach added, “We were playing zone. We’ve just got to try it. We really haven’t gotten to work on it. It wasn’t necessarily anything about Hall. And it was really successful. Then as the guys were getting tight offensively, they were getting tight defensively and they stopped trusting the rotations, trusting the movement and trusting each other. In addition to being more aggressive offensively, we switched back to man, which they’re a little bit more comfortable with at this point and they closed it out.
“I’m really proud that they responded like that because I thought they were done,” he noted. “You know, we had the lead and the game’s winding down and we’re getting late third and on into the fourth, our guys got really tight. I think our guys were playing the Hall name more than the team on the floor. They’re a good team on the floor. Don’t get me wrong but we got to playing that name a little bit. We got tight and started to choke and give it away.”
Martin finished with a game-high 22 points. Washington added 9 points. Allen and Steen each finished with 6.
Down 3-2 early, the Hornets put together a 10-2 surge to gain the upper hand in the first quarter. The run included a pair of baskets by Steen and a pair of 3’s by Martin.
Down 12-5, Hall whittled the advantage to 13-9 by the end of the first quarter.
It was 15-11 when Matin got hot again. He nailed a deep 3 and, after a Hall miss from long range, he drilled another trey and was fouled. He completed the four-point play to make it 22-11.
Goggins countered with a running jumper but with 3:39 left in the half, Martin, feeling it, ripped another deep bomb. And when Washington followed up, the Hornets had the largest lead of the game at 27-13. Goggins scored to make it a 12-point game at the half.
“I was really pleased with the first half and really pleased with the response the last three minutes after we got down,” Abrahamson said.
Hall’s Tyree Tillman and Steen traded baskets to start the second half then the Hornets went on their long slump. Allen added a pair of free throws but to make it 31-19 but the Warriors scored the next 17 points. Bryant was clinging to a 31-25 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Goggins drained a 3 to start the fourth quarter and it was a one-possession game.
Abrahamson called three timeouts over the next four minutes as his team’s struggles developed and Hall gained the upper hand, setting up the dramatic finish.