Bryant earns quality win over Searcy
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
Bryant Hornets head coach Leo Olberts figured he’d use a box-and-one defense some Monday night when his team hosted the Searcy Lions and their outside gunner Freddie Langston. He may not have figured on using it for an entire half but then he couldn’t have known just how effectively his guards, Matt Thornton, Matt Brown and Tad Beene would shut down Langston.
Langston was limited to just two free throws in the second half after drilling a trio of 3-point bombs in a second-quarter barrage and the Hornets surged to a 57-51 victory to improve to 2-0 on the season.
“Searcy is supposed to be one of the better teams in Class AAAA this year,” noted Olberts. “We knew it was going to be a good game. We knew that Langston was a good 3-point shooter and we had to get on him. We worked a little bit on that box-and-one in practice Saturday and I thought, for as little as we worked on it, the guys did a great job with it. We kept fresh people on him and just kind of wore him down.
“I thought the guys on the inside did a really good job because obviously (Searcy) had a lot more than just one good player,” Olberts added. “They had a good bunch, a big, physical bunch.”
Searcy center Chris Casey managed 22 points and seven rebounds, but forward Anthony Owens only scored 3 points before fouling out late in the contest.
The Hornets were led by Beene with 16 points including some clutch free-throw shooting in the fourth quarter. Beene converted 7 of 8 at the line in the final three minutes to help Bryant maintain its advantage.
Despite foul trouble that limited his playing time, Jared Thomas added 12 points. Nathan James had 9 and Thornton with 8.
The game was close early. The lead seesawed throughout the first quarter before an offensive-rebound basket by James with :58 left gave the Hornets a 9-8 edge.
It was 12-8 before Langston flushed his first trey. Beene answered with a jumper in the lane but Langston drilled another to tie it at 14.
Back-to-back baskets by Thomas kept the Hornets ahead but, after Owens cut the lead to 2, Thomas picked up his second foul of the half on a charge and was forced to the bench.
The Lions took advantage, going inside to Casey and Owens while the Hornets struggled to re-group on offense. An 11-1 run was capped by Langston’s third troika, a 28-foot missile that gave the Lions their largest lead of the game 25-19 with 1:38 left in the half.
The Hornets went to the box-and-one and actually got Langston so frustrated he committed an offensive foul with :11 left in the half. The Hornets had ended a field-goal drought of over three minutes with a basket inside by junior Johnny Goforth off a nice feed from James before Langston’s foul. Thornton added a pair of free throws to trim the lead to 25-23 and the Lions missed two shots in the final seconds to keep it that way at the break.
Thomas returned to start the third quarter and quickly scored twice as he worked the baseline. His second hoop gave Bryant a lead, though incessantly threatened, it would never relinquish.
A layup off a turnover by Beene made it 29-25 and, after a basket inside by Casey, Beene swished the Hornets’ lone 3 of the game to make it 32-27.
But the Hornets couldn’t shake the Lions. A three-point play by Julian Williams kept it close and the Lions had a chance to draw even only to turn the ball over.
A driving jumper by Thornton stemmed the tide for the time being. Still, Searcy drew within 37-36 before the end of the quarter. A basket at the buzzer by Colin Weatter upped the advantage to 3 going into the final period.
All night long, the Hornets effectively used the pump fake to get shots away or draw fouls or both against the physical, good-leaping Lions. The biggest incident of it may have come with 3:49 left to play. Searcy had just cut the margin to 43-40 on a bucket by Casey when Bryant sophomore Jeremy Reeves got free inside, took a pass from Thornton, faked a Searcy defender into the air, scored and drew a foul. The three-point play gave Bryant a 6-point cushion.
The Lions were never as close as 3 again. Casey answered with a drive off the post for a bucket but, moments later, Langston fouled out and Beene began his parade to the free-throw stripe.
Though the Hornets were just 18-of-29 at the line in the game, thanks in large part to Beene’s performance down the stretch, they connected on 10-of-15 in the final period.
The Hornets’ biggest lead was 8, achieved for the first time when Thomas followed up Beene’s two free throws with a driving jumper to make it 50-42 with 2:15 left.
“Jeremy Reeves gave us a couple of big buckets when we needed them,” Olberts noted. “Everybody contributed. When Jared was out — he missed most of the third quarter and some of the second — I thought Matt Thornton did some good things inside. Goforth and Weatter both did a pretty solid job. They got a couple of big rebounds for us and Colin made that big shot right there at the end of the third quarter that we really needed. I thought everybody that came in really contributed.
“Matt Brown, for his first game back — hadn’t really even practiced except for shooting around — did a pretty solid job handling the ball and helping on Langston,” Olberts added.
And the coach returned to the defense as the key.
“Last year, what really hurt us was we didn’t do a good job of taking care of the ball and our defense wasn’t very good,” he noted. “I feel like this year, our defense is really stepping up and we’re not being careless. We’re still not making free throws like I want to but we hit some big ones when we had to.
“I’m proud of them, I know that,” he concluded.
The Hornets return to action on Monday, Nov. 29, against Lake Hamilton in the opening round of the Central Arkansas Christian Invitational Tournament. Tipoff is 6 p.m.