For more photos by Rick Nation, go here; photos also by Kevin Nagle
BENTON — The defensive havoc that the Bryant Hornets freshman team thrives on came in bits and pieces in the first half against the Benton Panthers on Thursday night as both teams wrapped up the regular season.
As a result, the Panthers were able to hang around, mostly on the defense-defying drives by point guard Jamarius Morgan who scored 13 of his game-high 19 points before intermission.
And when Caiden Phillips hit a 3 with 1:21 left in the half, Benton had pulled even with the Hornets, 25-25.
Bryant began to trap Morgan at the half-court line to get the ball out of his hands and, in the final minute, made a push.
The run was instigated by Nasir Vincent, who grabbed an offensive rebound, scored and was fouled with :57 showing. He completed the three-point play.
The Hornets forced a turnover and James Billingsley cashed in with a layup. Morgan as well as Hez Brazell misfired at Benton’s end and Bryant’s Jordan Knox attacked the defense and hit a short jumper with :11 left.
Suddenly, the Hornets were ahead 32-25.
And when they held the Panthers without a field goal until just 1:36 was left in the third quarter, they began to pull away.
In the end, Bryant came away with a 58-39 victory, which also secured the 3 seed for the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference tournament. The Hornets will take on Little Rock Catholic on Monday at 3:15 p.m., at Conway High School. Benton, as the 8 seed, will face regular-season champion North Little Rock at 2 p.m.
On Thursday, Bryant had the Panthers scrambling, forcing 22 turnovers. And it’s worth noting that the Hornets only had two turnovers.
They also out-rebounded Benton, 28-27, with 16 offensive rebounds to just two for the Panthers. Knox led with 6 caroms.
“I love being able to do that,” said Bryant coach Tyler Posey, regarding the mayhem his team created with its hustling defense. “You’ve got to be able to make shots to get it set up. We struggled to do that early on and we weren’t able to create a lot of turnovers because we couldn’t get into our press. We couldn’t make it a transition game.
“(Morgan) was really good and effective at the rim,” he acknowledged. “He had a lot of points and a lot of shots at the rim. That really hurt us with getting set up.”
Regarding the move to a trapping double-team against the Panthers’ guard, Posey related, “We got a good suggestion from Coach A (Bryant High School head coach Mike Abrahamson) right there with the double team. We made the adjustment, just trying to get the ball out of his hands. And it really worked. They didn’t seem to handle it very well.”
Darren Wallace came off the bench to lead the Hornets with 12 points. Braylen Montgomery had 10, 8 of which came in the first quarter. James Billingsley and Ivory Gilmore finished with 9 each, Chris Gannaway 7.
Posey kept urging his players to attack the Panthers’ defense but, with the Panthers’ size inside, it took a while to get them going downhill. And instead of taking it all the way to the rim every time, they started to pull up in the lane and take short jumpers to avoid the shot-blockers.
“I thought we settled a lot early on,” Posey said. “Once we get our attack at the rim, we were able to get shots. Our 3’s were more kick-out 3’s instead of side-to-side, which is what we want to do every time on offense.”
The Hornets trailed 9-7 going into the last two minutes of the first quarter. A tip-in by Montgomery tied it at the 1:08 mark. Knox made a steal and Gannaway drove for a layup and the Hornets were ahead.
Wallace followed with another theft that he eventually cashed in with a 3. And the closing run was capped off when Montgomery made a steal and layup with :12 left to make it 16-9.
But the Panthers wouldn’t go away. By scoring the first 7 points of the second quarter, they drew even. Bryant surged with baskets by Knox, Billingsley and Gannaway for a 25-18 lead but Benton’s Morgan laced his way through the Hornets’ defense for layups as they drew even at 25, setting up the Hornets’ surge at the end of the half.
Morgan hit a free throw to start the third quarter but that would be his only scoring in the period. Gilmore splashed a triple then Montgomery drove for a layup off a turnover.
The Hornets suffered their first turnover at the 2:18 mark of the third quarter but Benton returned the favor and Gilmore drained another trey to make it 40-26.
Brazell finally broke the ice for the Panthers but Billingsley countered with a 15-foot jay to make it a 16-point game going into the fourth quarter.
Morgan’s jumper in the lane that started the scoring for Benton in the fourth quarter proved to be the Panthers’ last field goal as the Hornets blew the game up. Wallace scored 9 of his points in the final period. The largest margin was the 22 at the end, thanks to a basket by Davion Moore.
HORNETS 58, PANTHERS 36
Score by quarters
BRYANT 16 16 10 16 — 58
Benton 9 16 4 7 — 36
Knox 2-6 0-1 4, Billingsley 4-9 0-0 9, Montgomery 5-9 0-0 10, Nichols 0-4 2-2 2, Gilmore 3-7 0-0 9, Gannaway 3-8 1-6 7, Wallace 4-9 3-3 12, Vinson 1-4 1-4 3, Fluger 0-0 0-0, Reed 0-2 0-0 0, Baker 0-0 0-0 0, Moore 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 23-59 (39%) 7-16 (44%) 58.
Payne 0-2 0-0 0, Lane 0-2 0-0 0, Morgan 7-10 5-9 19, Phillips 4-6 1-2 10, Davis 0-1 0-2 0, Brazell 3-5 1-1 7, Kelly 0-0 0-0 0, Koch 0-0 0-0 0, Rook 0-3 0-0 0, Padron 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 14-29 (48%) 7-14 (50%) 36.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 5-21 (Gilmore 3-6, Billingsley 1-4, Wallace 1-4, Nichols 0-3, Knox 0-1, Montgomery 0-1, Gannaway 0-1, Reed 0-1), Benton 1-6 (Phillips 1-1, Payne 0-2, Lane 0-2, Koch 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 2, Benton 22. Rebounds: Bryant 16-12 28 (Knox 3-3 6, Montgomery 3-1 4, Gilmore 1-3 4, Wallace 3-1 4, Vinson 3-1 4, Gannaway 3-0 3, Billingsley 0-1 1, Moore 0-1 1, team 0-1 1), Benton 2-25 27 (Davis 2-4 6, Phillips 0-5 5, Payne 0-4 4, Brazell 0-3 3, Morgan 0-2 2, Kelly 0-2 2, Lane 0-1 1, Koch 0-1 1, Rook 0-1 1, team 0-2 2). Team fouls: Bryant 11, Benton 15.