By Rob Patrick
RUSSELLVILLE — In the rugged 7A-Central Conference, road wins are as valuable as they are hard to come by. So, when you’ve got a chance to post one and it gets away, it hurts.
On Friday, Jan. 16, the Bryant Hornets were hurting after their bid to win at Russellville fell short, 62-60.
The Hornets, coming off an impressive win at home against Van Buren, were trailing Russellville’s Cyclones, 47-39, early in the final period but rallied to tie the game on a pair of free throws by Dijon Benton with 2:06 showing. They got a chance to take the lead when Cameron Whaley set up defensively and took a charge to wipe out a shot by Russellville’s Brent Klein.
But the Cyclones’ star point guard A.J. Broadnax, limited to just 6 points through the first three quarters by the alternating defenders Benton and K-Ron Lairy, made a steal and drove for a layup to put his team ahead again, 56-54.
Broadnax wound up converting 6 of 8 free throws in the final 1:10 to preserve the lead, much to the Hornets’ frustration.[more]
“We didn’t play quite as well defensively as we have the last two games,” stated Hornets head coach Mark Smith. “We didn’t contain the ball very good but then that had a lot to do with the caliber of kid (Broadnax) we were trying to contain. But there were other kids too that were hurting us. It wasn’t just him.
“That caused us to have to step over and help,” he continued. “And when we did, they did a good job of finding the open man. Our rotation wasn’t quick enough so they were scoring or we were fouling or both. We just didn’t play with quite the energy defensively as we did against Van Buren.”
The Hornets led most of the first half thanks to some hot shooting from the outside. Junior Brandon Parish had a layup on a backdoor cut and a 3 for Bryant before Russellville could get on the board.
Later, Tim Floyd expanded a 5-4 lead with a pair of 3’s. The 11-4 margin forced Russellville coach Joe Sitkowski to call a timeout.
When play resumed, the Cyclones answered with 3’s from Klein and Brandon Westman only to have Lairy hit a running jumper before the buzzer to give Bryant a 13-10 edge.
With Floyd canning another pair of triples, the Hornets bumped the advantage to 17-12 early in the second quarter but Russellville rallied, taking a 23-22 lead with 2:26 left. The Cyclones had a chance to add to the margin when Broadnax made a steal but Benton got back on defense and harassed the guard into missing a layup.
At the other end, Lairy, on his way to a game-high 21 points, hit a layup to put the Hornets back on top.
Bryant led 29-28 at the half.
At the start of the third quarter, however, Russellville got inside for three consecutive three-point plays, countered only by a free throw from Floyd. The result was a 37-30 Cyclone lead.
It was 39-32 before Lairy drilled a trey and the Hornets forced a turnover that led to a layup by Lairy off a nice feed from Floyd on a backdoor play.
Broadnax and Bryant’s Dontay Renuard traded free throws and the game went to the fourth quarter with Russellville clinging to a 41-39 lead.
But the final period started much the same way that the third had. Blake Harris hit a layup then a 3 for the Cylcones and when Hunter Hawkins hit a free throw, the advantage was its largest at 47-39.
“We dug a little bit of a hole,” Smith acknowledged. “But we came back and tied it. I thought we executed real well on offense. I thought the shot selection was really good. We got a lot more back cuts than we have been, guys were cutting hard and we were finding the open man for some easy shots. Offensively, I was really pleased. I think that if the game had gone on another minute, we probably would’ve won but it didn’t.”
It helped that Benton got hot to make up for the defensive attention Russellville had focused on Floyd, who Smith said played one of his best games of the season, finishing with 17 points, nine rebounds and a handful of assists.
Benton, who had been 0 for 5 from the field through three quarters, flushed a pair of 3’s to help fuel Bryant’s comeback. His trey with 4:28 left on the heels of Lairy’s third triple of the game, trimmed the lead to 49-48.
Harris answered for Russellville, however.
A basket by Whaley off the offensive glass kept the Hornets close. Broadnax hit two free throws but Lairy took another backdoor pass from Floyd for a layup and the Cyclones turned the ball over leading to Benton’s two free throws that tied the game at 54.After Broadnax had hit two free throws to make it 58-54 with :50 left, Benton took a sweet feed from Reid Prescott for a layup. Broadnax hit two more from the line but, with :16.1 showing, so did Lairy to keep the Hornets within 2.
On the subsequent inbounds play against Bryant pressure, Broadnax cleared himself for a pass using a forearm into the chest of a Bryant defender who hit the floor. Despite calls for an offensive foul, Broadnax took the pass and was fouled with :14.3 to go. His free throws sealed the win.Bryant tried to score quickly to extend the game but Benton’s 3-point try rimmed out.
Floyd rebounded twice before getting a shot to go at the buzzer setting the final score.
The Hornets dropped to 7-8 overall this season, 1-2 in conference play. Russellville, also 7-8, became one of five teams in the 7A-Central tied for the league lead at 2-1.
Bryant was set to play two of those teams, Conway and Cabot, a pair of pre-season favorites in the week ahead.
“We’ve got to rebound and come back but we’ve got two really good teams to play,” Smith stated. “Hopefully, we can take care of business and get wins.”
RUSSELLVILLE 62, BRYANT 60
Score by quarters
BRYANT 13 16 10 21 — 60
Russellville 10 18 13 21 — 62
BRYANT (7-8, 1-2) 60
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Lairy 8-11 2-2 2-2 4 1 21
Parish 2-3 0-0 2-3 5 2 5
Benton 3-12 3-4 2-2 4 4 11
Floyd 5-13 3-6 3-2 5 1 17
Butzlaff 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 4 0
Renuard 1-5 2-2 0-3 3 3 4
Whitfield 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Whaley 1-3 0-0 1-1 2 0 2
Rayburn 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Prescott 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 2 0
Team reb. 2-0 2
Totals 20-47 10-14 12-13 25 17 60
RUSSELLVILLE (7-8, 2-1) 62
Player fg-fga ft-ft reb fls pts
Broadnax 3-10 10-11 0-2 2 2 16
Harris 7-12 1-1 2-2 4 2 18
Klein 1-1 0-0 0-2 2 3 3
Hawkins 5-9 5-6 3-4 7 2 15
Westman 1-2 0-0 0-2 2 1 3
Darnell 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 0
Carter 0-1 0-0 0-1 1 0 0
Turner 3-3 0-0 0-0 0 0 7
Team reb. 0-3 3
Totals 20-38 16-18 5-16 21 11 62
Three-point field goals: Bryant 10-23 (Floyd 4-9, Lairy 3-5, Benton 2-6, Parish 1-2, Renuard 0-1), Russellville 6-13 (Harris 3-7, Klein 1-1, Westman 1-1, Turner 1-1, Broadnax 0-3). Turnovers: Bryant 13, Russellville 10. Technical foul: Russellville coach Sitkowski.