Fast start lifts Bryant to first win
EDITOR’S NOTE: Because the look back at each day in Bryant athletic history has been so favorably received during the time when there was no sports during the COVID-19 shutdown, BryantDaily.com will continueposting past stories of Bryant athletics either posted on BryantDaily.com (from 2009 to the present) or published in the Bryant Times (from 1998 to 2008).
By ROB PATRICK
The Bryant Hornets basketball team was none too pleased about their performance in their pre-season scrimmage on Monday, Nov. 6. The thumpings they took at the hands of admittedly stout Hot Springs and Conway teams got their attention.
A few intense practices ensued.
So, they were pretty charged up by the time they hit the floor in the new Cincinnati University style uniforms they’d chosen for their regular-season home opener Tuesday, Nov. 14, against a pretty salty Pulaski Oak Grove Hornets team.
And, after Oak Grove’s Brandon Mooney scored the first basket off the opening tap, the Hornets made an impressive showing, reeling off 13 unanswered points to lead the rest of the way to a 56-49 victory.
“Believe me, these guys were ready to play,” stated Hornets coach Leo Olberts. “We’ve had some hard practices since last week. I guarantee. These guys came out and they really wanted to win tonight, they wanted to get off to a good start. We threw those new uniforms on ‘em. I think that might’ve pepped ‘em up a little bit.
“We got off to a really good start. Our press looked good. I thought our effort was just outstanding, especially in the first quarter.
“And it’s always good to win your first ballgame,” Olberts asserted, “especially against a team like (Oak Grove). They’ve got four starters back from a team that won about 20 games last year, one all-state player, maybe two. It was a good test against a pretty big, quick team. I was really proud of our guys for hanging in there.”
Junior Josh Ridge and senior Colin Weatter led the opening charge inside for the Hornets. Ridge answered Mooney’s opening bucket with a three-point play on his way to scoring 7 points in the period on the way to matching Jeremy Reeves for high-point honors for the game with 13.
Some nifty passing from senior point guard Matt Brown helped Ridge and Weatter added another couple of baskets to make it 7-2 and force an early Oak Grove timeout.
Weatter also finished in double figures for the Hornets with 11.
When play resumed, the two teams scrambled for awhile until Brown whipped a pass to junior forward Ben Olberts for another hoop.
Oak Grove seemed to be enamored with the 3-point line, attempting seven shots from long range in the first period and 28 in the game. (The visiting Hornets only made five.)
After Steven James missed from three-point range for Oak Grove, Weatter was fouled going to the hoop and converted twice at the line. A minute later, Ridge hit two more free throws to make it 13-2.
Oak Grove finally got back in the scoring column with a new quintet on the court. Chad Willis hit a free throw and Spencer Pierson knocked down a jumper in the lane.
But Bryant answered with another run, 9-3, to end the quarter leading 22-8. Reeves got into the act to start that streak with a three-point play off a nice feed from Jermaine Smith. Moments later, Brown and Matt Lewis combined on a steal that netted a layup for Matt Brown off another nifty assist from Smith.
After another Oak Grove miss, Reeves buried a 3-pointer to make it 21-5.
The second quarter wasn’t as productive for Bryant. After scoring 22 in the first, the hometown Hornets managed just nine in the second. It was still 27-12 with 5:53 left in the half when Oak Grove made a surge to trim the margin to nine and thanks to a stickback by Mooney with :03 left, the visitors were within 31-23 at the break.
“This bunch, we’re young, we’re going to have nights when we struggle,” Olberts commented. “But I think this team is capable of doing a lot of good things. We’ve just got to scrap for everything we’re worth. We’re not very big and we’ve just got to really scrap.
“We’ve got to cut out unforced turnovers,” he added. “We had 19 turnovers tonight and probably 12 of them were just absolutely unforced and ridiculous. We’ve got to cut that out if we’re going to be as good as we want to be.”
In the third quarter, Bryant pushed the lead back to double digits. Smith hit for 6 points in the quarter including a jumper off a kick-out feed from Weatter to start the scoring. Olberts scored off a baseline drive and it was 35-23.
Oak Grove cut the margin back to nine but Weatter popped a couple of unanswered hoops to bump it back up.
And that’s the way it went until a late push by Oak Grove cut it back to 46-40. It was 48-40 going into the final quarter but Oak Grove cut it back to six and the momentum of the game appeared to hang in the balance midway through the fourth.
That’s when Bryant stepped up defensively. After Will Adams’ stickback with 5:17 left cut the margin to 48-42, Oak Grove didn’t score again until just 1:48 was left.
In the interim, Ridge hit three of four free throws and Weatter came up with a loose ball and laid it in to increase the margin to 53-42.
Lance Boykins hit a 3 to end Oak Grove’s drought but Brown and Weatter hit free throws down the stretch to help preserve the win.
The free throw performance of both teams made a difference. Oak Grove converted just 10 of 20 at the line while Bryant converted 20 of 28.
Bryant will get another week before playing again, visiting Searcy on Tuesday, Nov. 21.