By Rob Patrick
The last time a Bryant Hornets basketball team won a State Tournament game, the current members of the team hadn’t even been born yet.
Research back to 1989 has shown no State wins since then and, though the Hornets reached State a couple of times in 1986 and 1987, it may be since the program’s State championship in 1981 that a post-season victory has been recorded.
So the current Hornets can break another long drought for the program. This season, they’ve already beaten the rival Benton Panthers for the first time since 2005 then swept them in the two regular-season meetings for the first time since 2001. In winning the Spa City Shootout in Hot Springs over Christmas break, they captured the first tournament title since 1999. And when the 7A/6A-Central Conference round-robin was over, not only had they qualified for State for the first time since 2008, they’d secured the No. 3 seed from the league, the highest seeding for a Hornets team since the ‘80’s.
Those landmarks have been engineered by head coach Mike Abrahamson, assistant Steve Wilson and a squad that includes seniors Brantley Cozart, Jordan Griffin, Quinton Motto, Travis Royal and Logan Trudell, along with juniors Zach Cambron, Strodney Davis, Jalen Hewett, Luke Rayburn, and Marcus Wilson (with early help from Leon Neale whose family made a mid-season move out of state). The sophomores have contributed plenty too. They are Anthony Black, Cedarrian Crosby, Greyson Giles, C.J. Rainey, Brian Reed, Mitch Scoggins and Caleb Strain.
The Hornets open State today at 5:30 p.m., against the Bentonville Tigers, the No. 6 seed from the 7A-West Conference. The tourney is at Cabot’s spanking new Panther Arena. (For those unable to attend, radio play-by-play of the game can be heard on KEWI-AM 690 in Benton.)
“We’re trying to stick to our routines as much as possible,” Abrahamson said of the preparation for today’s game. “But, you know, it’s going to be a little different just because of the environment. We’re playing at 5:30 instead of 7:30 or 8. We have a bus shortage so the cheerleaders are going to ride with us.
“But we’re just trying to approach it the same as normal,” he added. “We are practicing at the middle school gym just because it’s a different gym, a little out of our comfort zone. Everything else is pretty much the same. I try to approach every game with State-tournament intensity.”
There’s been some adversity for the Hornets — a death in one of the players’ extended family, some illness, some injury.
“We’re just practicing with who’s here and play with who’s ready,” the coach stated. “There’s ups and downs throughout the year. It’s just something that happens.”
Regarding Bentonville, Abrahamson reported, “They’re pretty good. They’ve got a 6-8 post kid that’s pretty good, a junior. He’s going to be a tough match-up for us. They’ve got another 6-5 starter and some pretty good guards.
“They play with a lot of confidence,” he continued. “They like to play a fast-pace game, run a 3-2 zone in the half-court and they’re pretty aggressive out of it. We really haven’t seen that this year so there’s a little bit of preparation to go with that. They’re a good team.
“We’re going to have to rebound, which is everything because we’re smaller than most,” the coach noted. “The 6-8 kid is very active. He can step outside a little bit and he’s going after every rebound. They don’t take a whole lot of time to shoot it. They’re very aggressive and confident, move the ball quick and get up a good shot as soon as they can. They don’t press a whole lot but they play an uptempo type of game.
“We’re going to have to be alert and we’re going to have to contest shots, get the first rebound,” he said. “If they’re able to get offensive rebounds on us, we could be in trouble.
“And we’re going to have to execute on offense. As we’ve learned, if we’re not scoring, we’re struggling in other areas as well. We saw that Friday night against Central where I thought we played pretty good defense but, because we weren’t scoring, we had a few letdowns and Central made four or five big momentum plays right at the right time for them. Give them credit for that but, I think, if we’re scoring the ball a little big better, making some of the layups we missed, making a few of the wide-open 3’s that, normally, we’re going to make some of them, it’s a different game.
“We’re going to have to play well,” Abrahamson concluded.
CLASS 7A STATE TOURNAMENT
Wednesday, Feb. 29
Game 2 — Springdale (17-10) (West 4) vs. Cabot (15-8) (Central 5), 2:30 p.m.
Game 4 — Bryant (16-10) (Central 3) vs. Bentonville (15-13) (West 6), 5:30 p.m.
Game 6 — Conway (17-10) (Central 4) vs. Fort Smith Northside (13-15) (West 5), 8:30 p.m.
Thursday, March 1
Game 8 — Fayetteville (20-6) (West 3) vs. LR Central (11-14) (Central 6), 2:30 p.m.
Game 10 — Little Rock Hall (23-3) (Central 1) vs. game 2 winner, 5:30 p.m.
Game 12 — Rogers (19-8) (West 2) vs. game 4 winner, 8:30 p.m.
Friday, March 2
Game 14 — Fort Smith Southside (22-6) (West 1) vs. game 6 winner, 5:30 p.m.
Game 16 — North Little Rock (18-8) (Central 2) vs. game 8 winner, 8:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 3
Game 18 — Game 10 winner vs. game 12 winner, 1:30 p.m.
Game 20 — Game 14 winner vs. game 16 winner, 7:30 p.m.
Class 7A State championship game
Summit Arena, Hot Springs
Game 22 — Game 18 winner vs. game 20 winner, TBA
Hornets make State tourney debut