Robinson, Hornets rally past Wampus Cats to extract win in first-place showdown

Photo courtesy of Aaron Brewer

With the game tied 59-59 and his Bryant Hornets scrambling to find a last shot and 6-7 post Catrell Wallace holding the ball out of his range as the clock was ticking down to around 10 seconds, Mike Abrahamson was about to call a timeout.

He’s glad he didn’t.

Because Khalen Robinson drove across the lane and hit a flying layup with :03 left. The Hornets prevented a last-second shot by the Conway Wampus Cats to escape with a 61-59 come-from-behind win in a battle for first place in the 6A-Central Conference before a boisterous packed house at the Hornets’ Nest on Friday night.

“It was on the tip of my tongue,” Abrahamson said, regarding the timeout. “But I see (Robinson) find a crease and I just hold, because I’ve seen it play out like that before. And he gets in there and makes his layup.”

“I just knew I had to come up big for my team,” Robinson related. “I knew they needed me at that time. They trusted me with the ball. I had no other choice but to come up big.”

Robinson, who scored the Hornets’ last 7 points, had just hit a 3 to tie it with :45 left.

The junior guard wound up with a game-high 27 points. After the go-ahead drive, his teammates rushed to him to celebrate at the baseline, but Conway had called a timeout.

“I don’t know if they thought the game was over,” Abrahamson said. “There was a timeout immediately. 

“That’s one thing that shows immaturity,” he said of the players’ reaction. “It shows a lack of poise and composure. I had to go over there and get them and say, ‘Look, the game’s not over. Get your tails over here to the bench. We have to get a stop.’ We’ve got to get used to being in this moment. I didn’t like the way we handled ourselves in some situations tonight.”

Conway returned to the floor after the timeout and when Cats’ coach Salty Longing saw how Bryant was going to defend on the inbounds, he called another one. This time, they returned in a different arrangement and Abrahamson called a timeout to reset his defense.

Eventually, the Cats inbounded the ball but had to get it in to guard Trey Tull in the backcourt. He turned and tried to fire a pass downcourt to teammate Caleb London, but it was too high for the 6-3 London and time ran out.

“This was a semifinal State tournament environment,” Abrahamson said, regarding the crowd, which spent most of the final quarter on their feet.

The Wampus Cats were stunned at the end because they had led most of the game. Robinson’s game-winner put the Hornets ahead for the first time since the first minute of the second quarter.

Conway had a 10-point lead going into the fourth.

“We just kept staying together,” Robinson said of his team. “We talked to each other, telling each other not to give up. We came out ready to get down ready to play defense. That was the main thing, play defense, get stops, take one possession at a time. We just did what we were taught to do. We weren’t doing what we were taught to do at the beginning of the game. Once we started listening to Coach, it started working.”

“The strategy was just, hang on, just hang in there and give ourselves a chance because we really got out-played most of that game,” Abrahamson stated. “Conway out-played us most of the night. Give them credit.

“Our kids just won on resiliency and will, just never giving up and realizing it’s a four-quarter game,” he added. “Resiliency is a great quality to have. It gives us a chance in any game that we’re in. We’re going to have to play better than we did tonight, but I think a lot of the reason that maybe we didn’t play well is that Conway did play well.

“To me, whether we had won or lost, we can get a lot better from this game,” the coach insisted. “We can learn a lot from this game, some of the mistakes that we made, some of the things we did to lead up to the game that we didn’t necessarily do out here in the game that I think would’ve helped us play better. We can get better. We’ve got some work to do.”

The victory was the Hornets’ sixth in a row and 12thin the last 13 games. The lone loss along the way was to Fort Smith Northside, when Bryant was without Robinson because of injury. The Hornets will try to avenge that loss in their next outing on Friday, Feb. 1, at Fort Smith.

Treylon Payne scored 12 points for the Hornets, though he wasn’t nearly as efficient as he has been of late. Wallace wound up with 10 points and five rebounds. Rodney Lambert, in foul trouble much of the game, wound up with 5 points, Cameron Hunter 4 and Padrick Martin 3. Hunter led the team with 6 caroms, many of them in traffic against bigger players.

Jakilyn Kaiser led Conway with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Kylen Milton had 11 points and London 8.

Trailing by 10, the Hornets opened the fourth quarter with a little 9-2 run. Robinson hit two free throws then scored off an inbounds lob. London countered for Conway to make it 46-38 but Hunter hit a jumper in the lane and, off a feed from Lambert, Payne found the range on a 3, just his second of the game to make it 46-43.

Christian Williams missed two free throws for Conway, giving the Hornets a chance to tie or cut the lead to 1 but the Wampus Cats forced a turnover and it looked like Terry Clardy was going to get a layup. But Wallace hustled back and swatted the shot away.

At that point, there had already been two technical fouls called on the Wampus Cats. Wallace, apparently said something to Clardy at that moment and was hit with a T.

Milton hit the two technical foul shots and, moments later, Clardy was fouled and converted once at the line to make it 49-43. And when Milton got a dunk off a Bryant turnover to make it 51-43, things were looking pretty dim for the Hornets.

Wallace and Kaiser traded baskets then Robinson came through with a three-point play off a drive to the rack. Milton countered with a pair of free throws and the Hornets trailed 55-48 with 3:41 left.

Two free throws by Hunter, a Conway turnover and a layup by Payne made it 55-52. Then Payne made a steal and was fouled with 2:48 to go. He went to the line to cut it to 1 point.

But Milton hit two free throws with 2:32 left and both teams missed chances to change the score. That didn’t occur until there was just 1:25 to go and Tull went to the line.

He converted just once but that was enough to make it a two-possession game, 58-54. With 1:06 left, Robinson was fouled. He converted twice to make it 2-point game and Abrahamson called a timeout at the :55.8 mark with Kaiser headed to the free-throw line.

Like Tull, Kaiser made just one of his two free throws and it remained a one-possession difference. And, sure enough, Robinson got free in the left corner and splashed a 3 to tie it as the Bryant fans including the Swarm behind that basket went wild.

The Hornets jumped into a half-court trap and Conway turned it over when Milton stepped on the boundary in front of the Hornet bench.

With :39.6 left, the Hornets inbounded the ball and Robinson pulled it out near the midcourt stripe to let it play down for the last shot. When Conway came out to trap him, he got rid of it on the left wing. A cross-court pass to A.J. Jenkins led to a pass to Wallace who was out of his range. Robinson came to get the ball and drove from the right side of the key across the lane to lay it in.

“I and our players feel comfortable with him having the ball, and so does he,” Abrahamson said of Robinson. “But it’s not that we’re trying to avoid anybody else. We had other guys that made plays down the stretch, guys that can make big shots. It just kind of happened that way.”

Bryant had struggled offensively early. After the Hornets took a 4-0 lead, Conway scored 8 in a row. The Hornets bounced back and, by virtue of a 3 from Robinson with :03 left in the quarter, took a 13-12 lead into the second stanza.

Conway surged to a 20-15 edge. Wallace scored then Robinson hit a jumper in the lane. Lambert canned a 15-footer to offset a bucket by Conway’s Bryce Bohannon and the Hornets were within a point, 22-21 with 4:59 left in the half.

Back and forth it went and the game wound up tied 25-25 at the intermission.

“The first half, I thought we were getting great looks, shots that we would normally make more of than we were making,” Abrahamson said. “So, I just felt like, stick to the plan, stick to the plan. There were a couple of little minor things we weren’t doing well but, overall, I liked the looks we were getting.

“Defensively, we wanted to keep them out of the lane,” he added. “That really didn’t get much better.”

Lambert fed Wallace for the first basket of the second half then Conway got going, putting together a 12-0 push to produce the first double-digit lead by the 4:15 mark of the quarter. The Hornets cut it to 6 but wound up trailing 44-34 at the end of the period.


Score by quarters

Conway           12        13        19        15 — 59

BRYANT           13        12        9          27 — 61

WAMPUS CATS (14-5, 5-2) 59

Milton 1-3 9-10 11, London 4-7 0-0 8, Tull 2-7 1-2 6, Kaiser 8-8 3-4 20, Clardy 2-6 1-2 6, Williams 0-2 0-2 0, Bohannon 1-2 3-4 6, Campbell 1-2 0-2 2. Totals:19-37 (51%) 17-26 (65%) 59.

HORNETS (15-4, 6-1) 61

Payne 1-3 9-10 12, Kl.Robinson 9-17 7-9 27, Lambert 2-5 0-0 5, Hunter 1-7 2-3 4, Wallace 5-5 0-0 10, Martin 1-1 1-2 3, Jenkins 0-0 0-0 0, Hall 0-0 0-0 0. Totals:22-49 (45%) 12-16 (75%) 61.

Three-point field goals:Bryant 5-19 (Payne 2-9, Robinson 2-7, Lambert 1-3), Conway 4-9 (Tull 1-4, Kaiser 1-1, Clardy 1-1, Bohannon 1-1, Williams 0-2). Turnovers:Bryant 8, Conway 8. Rebounds:Bryant 7-17 24 (Hunter 1-5 6, Wallace 1-4 5, Robinson 2-2 4, Martin 1-1 2, Hall 0-2 2, Payne 0-1 1, Lambert 1-0 1, team 1-2 3), Conway 7-22 29 (Kaiser 3-8 11, Milton 0-4 4, Williams 0-3 3, Campbell 1-2 3, London 1-1 2, Clardy 0-2 2, team 2-2 4). Team fouls:Bryant 21, Conway 19. Fouled out:Bryant, Lambert. Technical fouls:Bryant, Wallace; Conway, dunking in pregame, London.

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