By Rob Patrick
VAN BUREN — The Bryant Lady Hornets never really seemed comfortable at the palatial Clair Banks Athletic Arena. They got down early and trailed late.
But nothing was going to stop Haley Montgomery from either getting a shot or forcing the official to make a call that could get her back to the line. With the Lady Hornets trailing 50-49, with :12.5 left, Bryant brought the ball up and Montgomery got a step just above the free-throw line and charged down the right side of the key, pulling up from 10 feet away and putting up a baby jump hook that kissed the glass and settled in the net with :04 showing.
Though Van Buren got a timeout with :02.2 on the clock, a long inbounds pass was tipped by Bryant’s Alana Morris and secured by Abbie Stearns.
The Lady Hornets had pulled out a 51-50 win that kept them in sole possession of second place in the 7A Central Conference and officially clinched a spot in the State Tournament in Fort Smith. They’ll take a 17-3 overall record and 8-1 conference mark into Tuesday’s game at home against Russellville.
Now they’re playing for seeding and, perhaps, a conference championship. They trail North Little Rock by a game in the standings and lead Cabot by one with both of them to play again.
Van Buren, 10-11 and 2-6, continues to battle for a State touney bid, tied with Conway and Mount St. Mary’s for fifth in the league going into their Tuesday game hosting MSM.[more]
Montgomery scored all 6 of her points down the stretch and was responsible for a couple that teammate Anna Simpson cashed in with :18.4 to go. Montgomery fearlessly drove into the lane and hit the floor along with Van Buren point guard Katlyn Kemp. Both stayed down for a while then both left the court. Montgomery, dazed, was helped to the bench while Kemp exited with her fifth foul.
Simpson, the Bryant senior, was herself on the bench with four fouls but stepped back in and drilled both shots in her teammate’s stead giving Bryant a 49-48 edge.
But, seconds later, Simpson, trying to stop a drive up the right side of the court by Van Buren’s Keri Arnold, fouled out as well. And Arnold, a sophomore, knocked down both free throws despite an icing (and planning) timeout by Bryant coach Blake Condley between them.
Montgomery returned upon Simpson’s exit, setting the stage for the game-winner.
Asked if the last play went just the way he planned, Condley said, “You bet!“I just told the girls (during the timeout), ‘Hey, attack the rim and make the referees make a call,’” he added. “We had gotten fouled on the last two or three trips down. I said, ‘Don’t settle for something outside, get to the rim, get to the free-throw line.’ Haley came down, it kind of opened up for her. She just took it in there and made a great shot.”
The Lady Hornets struggled early, falling behind 6-0 and still trailing 11-5 going into the final two minutes of the first quarter. They suffered 11 turnovers in the first quarter, 16 in the half, 24 in the game.
“I don’t know why,” Condley related. “Maybe it was the long trip, maybe it was because it was a little different atmosphere. It’s kind of an open gym. We haven’t played in an arena like this much to this point. But we better get used to it because the next couple of road trips are going to be in arenas like this.”
That would be Conway and North Little Rock, plus the Class 7A State Tournament will be held at the Stubblefield Center at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith.
Sparked by Morris, who finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds (both game highs), Bryant rallied. Morris had 8 of the team’s points in the first quarter which ended with Van Buren up 15-12.
It was 19-16 a minute into the second period when Simpson drove for a hoop, Morris hit the offensive glass for a basket and Hannah Goshien (10 points) added a free throw that had the Lady Hornets ahead for the first time, 21-19.
Amy Walden, who scored 27 points in Van Buren’s loss at Bryant earlier in the season, rallied her team and when Kemp hit two free throws with :13.4 on the clock, the Pointerettes had a 26-24 lead.
“I told the girls at halftime, I don’t care if we win by 20 or we win by one, let’s just get out of here with a win,” Condley related. “I said, ‘You’ve just got to focus in and do what it takes.”
To start the second half, the Lady Hornets intensified the defense. Van Buren didn’t add to its point total until Sydney Blake hit a jumper from the corner with 1:19 left in the third quarter.
But Van Buren, playing mostly a zone to try to cut off the dribble drives of Simpson and Morris, didn’t let the Lady Hornets make too much hay during that drought. Baskets by Morris and Kenzee Calley, along with a 3 from Goshien had Bryant up just 33-26 before Blake’s basket.
Stearns gave Bryant a lift late in the period and in the fourth. After the Lady Hornets followed Blake’s hoop with a turnover, Stearns blocked a shot and, at the other end, drove through the key for a layup.
But Van Buren’s Kaitlyn Simpson buried a 3 to make it 35-31 going into the final quarter and, on baskets by Kemp and Walden, Van Buren pulled even. With the help of a pair of baskets by Stearns, one off the offensive glass and another off a sweep feed from Taylor Hughes, and free throws from Montgomery and Morris, the Lady Hornets held a 43-40 lead with 2:56 to play.
But over the next minute, the Lady Hornets could only manage a free throw by Morris after, on two previous possessions, the Pointerettes had closed off her driving lane and absorbed a pair of charges.
Van Buren led 48-44 and had two chances to increase the margin. Arnold missed the front end of a one-and-one then Anna Simpson couldn’t get a free throw to fall at the 1:21 mark.
More aggressively pressing, the Lady Hornets forced a turnover as the team’s two seniors Simpson and Hughes secured the ball. Simpson, on a drive to the basket, was knocked to the floor and was slow to arise. But she stepped to the line and delivered one of the two shots to trim the lead to 3.
Hughes made another steal and Montgomery cashed in at the line to make it 48-47 with :36.4 left.
“We had been trying to keep (Walden) from getting touches so we weren’t rotating off of her as much,” Condley said of the press earlier in the game. “There at the end, we just went all out on everybody. Maybe I tried to coach too much, maybe I should’ve just let us go but (Walden) has been their primary scorer. Everything goes through her. She’s averaging 15 or 20 a game and they’re only scoring 40 or 50 a game as a team. So she does the majority of their scoring. So we were focused on trying to shut her down, to stop her.”
Walden still led Van Buren but only had 12 points this time.
Van Buren appeared to get a break at that point when the Lady Hornets lost track of Jammie Jones who got behind the defense and was open under the basket. But Morris rushed back, Jones hurried the shot and missed. Morris rebounded and got the ball ahead to Montgomery resulting in the collision that sent her and Kemp to their respective benches.
“I don’t think you can put a price on confidence,” Condley asserted. “I think us winning games and Van Buren not winning games played big. I felt like they were just hoping to hang on and not lose. I feel like we started attacking. When we got under a minute and we felt like there was a chance, we became the aggressor and went after it to try to win the game.”
A far cry from the mindset the previous two seasons, something not lost on Condley and assistant Monica Parish. Both were all smiles when the subject of the State tournament was raised.
LADY HORNETS 51, POINTERETTES 50
Score by quarters
BRYANT 12 12 11 16 — 51
Van Buren 15 11 5 17 — 50
LADY HORNETS (17-3, 8-1) 51
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb. fls. pts.
Hughes 0-2 0-0 0-0 0 2 0
Goshien 3-10 1-2 2-1 3 2 10
Calley 1-3 0-0 0-1 1 1 2
A.Simpson 2-5 4-7 3-0 3 5 8
Morris 7-15 5-6 4-9 13 3 19
Montgomery 1-4 4-4 0-0 0 1 6
Johnson 0-0 0-0 0-1 1 2 0
Stearns 3-3 0-0 2-2 4 1 6
Team rebs. 1-3 4
Totals 17-42 14-19 12-17 29 17 51
POINTERETTES (10-11, 2-6) 50
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls. pts.
Kemp 3-8 3-4 0-4 4 5 9
Arnold 0-8 5-7 0-1 1 1 5
Blake 4-8 1-2 2-2 4 3 9
Walden 6-12 0-2 2-2 4 3 12
Graham 2-4 2-2 5-2 7 1 6
Jones 3-4 0-0 1-3 4 2 6
Tucker 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
K.Simpson 1-3 0-0 0-0 0 2 3
Team rebs. 1-2 3
Totals 19-47 11-17 11-16 27 17 50
Three-point field goals: Bryant 3-17 (Goshien 3-9, Montgomery 0-3, Hughes 0-2, Morris 0-2, A.Simpson 0-1), Van Buren 1-9 (K.Simpson 1-3, Arnold 0-2, Blake 0-2, Kemp 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 24, Van Buren 19.