Basketball team conquers first foe
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
Though he wanted to have all of his team’s weaknesses exposed in its pre-season scrimmages against Pulaski Robinson and Hot Springs last week, Bryant Hornets head basketball coach Leo Olberts was a little alarmed by the problems his team had that night. So, it was with some apprehension that he sent the Hornets out for their regular-season opener against the Cabot Panthers Monday night.
Not to worry.
The Hornets reeled off the first 10 points of the ballgame and never trailed on the way to a 59-47 victory.
It was a surprisingly efficient performance by the Hornets for a season-opener.
“To just have eight turnovers,” marveled Olberts, “and, along with that, I thought our defense was the best it’s been in two years. We really hustled and did really a good job on defense.”
Cabot shot just 30 percent from the field including 5-of-26 on 3-point attempts.
“They obviously shot an awful lot of 3’s and we did a pretty good job of getting the rebound most of the time,” Olberts noted.
The Hornets shot 50 percent from the field. Jared Thomas, who missed the scrimmages with an ankle injury, led all scorers on Monday with 18 points. He also grabbed nine rebounds. Matt Thornton added 14 points and a team-high 10 boards while backcourt mate Tad Beene added 9 points.
The Hornets got a lift from sophomore Jeremy Reeves, who started the game and pumped in 11 points including a pair of 3-pointers to help stave off a Cabot rally in the second period.
“We had some guys come off the bench and really help us,” Olberts noted. “And I thought Jeremy Reeves had an outstanding game, especially being a sophomore. Jermaine Smith, Johnny Goforth, Colin Weatter and Jared Koder all came off the bench when we needed them and helped us so it was real team effort.”
Actually, the difference could’ve been much greater than 12 had the Hornets hit their free throws more consistently. They were 28 of 42 (67 percent).
“We need to do a much better job at the free-throw line,” Olberts declared. “We did a good job getting there but we didn’t shoot a very good percentage.”
And as most that have followed Bryant basketball under Olberts know, that’s a big part of the winning formula for the Hornets, attacking the basket, getting to the line and converting.
But it was that defense that sparked the initial run. Leading 2-0 on a stickback by Reeves, the Hornets got things rolling when Beene made a steal and layup. After Cabot’s Dustin Eagle missed a 3-point try, the Hornets went inside to Thomas for a 6-0 lead.
Nathan James (5 points, 6 boards) added a free throw then, after another Cabot turnover, Thomas came through with a three-point play to make it 10-0.
The Panthers finally got on the board with 3:29 left in the opening quarter on a bucket inside by Chris Yielding.
Moments later, however, Beene and Thornton combined to force a turnover that led to a layup for Thornton. Another three-point play by Thomas off a high-post feed from James increased the margin to 15-2 with 2:17 left.
Cabot’s three-point gunner Shane Hutcheson (13 points) hit a pair of 3’s around a driving layup by Beene and the quarter ended with Bryant up 17-8.
A layup by Thornton off a back-door cut with an assist from James opened the second period. James added another free throw and Bryant led 20-8.
That’s when Cabot finally came to life and made a move, but Reeves knocked down a 3 when it was 20-13 and, later, when it was 25-18.
At halftime, Bryant led 37-26.
A three-point play by Cabot’s Richard Murphy opened the third quarter scoring then the two teams tangled for control with the margin at 37-29 for over a minute before Thornton’s driving layup made it a double-digit lead again.
Cabot was never as close again.
Though the misses at the free-throw line kept the Hornets from making it a complete blowout, they were able increase the advantage to as much as 18 eventually. A series of free throws by Reeves, Thomas and Beene made it 57-39 with 2:01 left to play.
Both teams subbed after that and Cabot was able to whittle on the lead little as the Hornets concentrated on working the clock as much as scoring.
“For a first ballgame, we’re real pleased,” Olberts stated. “We’ve got a lot to work on especially getting ready for Searcy. They’ve got a really good team. But it was a really good first effort.”
The Hornets host Searcy on Monday.