For more photos from this event by Kevin Nagle, go here
After making a steal, the Bryant Hornets’ Austin Ledbetter hit both ends of a one-and-one to give his team a 42-41 lead over the Conway Blue Wampus Cats in the first round of the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference tournament Monday night at the Bryant Middle School gym.
With :20 left, Conway Blue’s Jacoby Easly drove from the right wing into the lane, pulled up and popped a short jumper to put the Cats up 43-42.
With :17.9 left, Bryant head coach Tyler Posey called timeout to set something up. When play resumed, the Hornets worked the ball until Ledbetter got a lane down the right side of the key. But when he got to the basket, there was Conway Blue’s big Jaylen Williams to block the shot.
With time running out, Williams wrested away the rebound but was off-balance. As he slipped to the floor, he tried to push the ball ahead to a teammate. But it didn’t go very far and the race was on for the loose ball. Bryant’s Aiden Adams got there first but as soon as he picked the ball up, he was knocked down. A foul was called and, with :01 showing on the clock, Adams went to the line for a one-and-one, a chance to tie it and earn a chance to win it.
Conway head coach Tommy McMillan, seeing that his team, a three seed for the tournament, was in danger of ending its season against a six seed, called a timeout.
McMillan would later say that it was the last guy he would’ve wanted on the free-throw line in that situation. He remembered all too well when, playing in Conway on Jan. 25, Adams had hit 8 of 9 3-pointers for 24 points against his Cats, who nevertheless snuck out with a 52-49 win.
The Cats did everything they could to quiet Adams in Monday’s tournament game. Not only had they held him scoreless, he’d only been able to attempt four shots.
But there he was with a chance to end their season and send the Hornets into the second round of the tourney.
After the timeout, he took his time, went through his routine and took the first show. It looked true but it hit the left side of the rim and came out to the right. As the two teams scrambled for the carom, time ran out and Conway Blue had survived.
Adams’ miss was the most noticeable, but it wasn’t the only one the Hornets missed that might’ve made a difference in the game. Bryant was just 5 of 13 from the line in the game. Had they shot better earlier in the game, it might not have come down to that.
It was another in a long line of gut-buster losses for the Hornets, who finished the campaign 14-12 overall and 7-11 in league play. Seven of their 12 losses were by less than 5 points.
“I told them in the locker room, I don’t remember a year that we fought so hard and were right there in that many games, to not close them out the way that we hoped,” said Pose. “They deserved a lot of those games. They played really hard.
“You’ve got one of our better shooters on the team on the line, down one,” he said. “That’s who I called the play for and that’s who I wanted the ball in his hands, him or Ledbetter. I feel like they’re going to knock that shot down almost every time.”
Reflecting on the season, Posey said, “They really, really worked hard and improved and did a good job of doing what they were coached to do. Unfortunately, we just never got those close games closed out.”
The Hornets got a big lift off the bench from Ryan Riggs and Myles Aldridge. Riggs hit four 3-pointers including three in the first half for a game-high 12 points, while Aldridge scored 11 points and grabbed a team-high seven boards.
Ledbetter and Hayden Schrader added 7 points each with Jalen Montgomery pitching in with 5.
For Conway Blue, Easly matched Riggs for game-high honors with 12. Williams finished with 11 points and nine rebounds but was taken out of the game much of the night as the Hornets pressed and sped up the game, which wore Williams down. Donavan Nooner contributed 10 points for the Cats.
Conway got out to an 8-2 start, but Ledbetter hit a driving jumper and Riggs canned his first 3. Nick Orr scored on a baseline drive to make it 10-7 but Riggs popped another 3 with :17 left to knot it at 10.
The second quarter went much the same way. Conway Blue surged early, this time, it was a 13-3 burst only interrupted by another Riggs triple. Then back came Bryant.
Montgomery scored and, moments later, Schrader took a nice feed from Aldridge and scored. The Hornets forced a turnover and Montgomery hit a free throw. He followed up with a steal and a layup to make it 23-20.
Easly answered with a 3 but the Hornets kept coming. Schrader hit a layup then, in the final minute, Aldridge grabbed an offensive rebound and score. With :39.5 to go, he did it again to tie the game at 26.
And it remained that way at the half when Nooner missed a 3.
Nooner and Orr started the scoring in the second half but back-to-back 3’s by Schrader and Riggs had the Hornets ahead for the first time in the game, 32-30. Consecutive baskets by Williams had the Cats up 34-32.
Aldridge tied it with 3:15 left in the quarter then neither team could score until Aldridge hit a layup with :38 left to put the Hornets back in front. Williams hit a free throw in the final seconds and Bryant held a 36-35 lead going into the final stanza.
Off a steal by Ledbetter, Aldridge scored on a jumper in the lane to increase the margin to 38-35. Nooner missed a 3-point try to give the Hornets a shot to extend the margin further but Gavin Brunson was turned aside by Williams at the other end.
Easly hit two free throws to cut the margin to 1 and, after a Bryant miss, drove for a layup that put Conway Blue back on top, 39-38, with 3:56 left.
With 2:11 left, Aldridge hit a free throw to tie it up again. Easly missed a 3 and, with 1:26 left, Posey called time to set something up.
Austin Schroeder got into the lane and was fouled, the fifth foul on the Cats’ Mitchell Dunigan who was limited to 4 points in the game. Schroeder connected on one of his free throws to snap the tie.
With 1:06 left, Williams tipped in a teammate’s miss and the seesaw score commenced. Ledbetter missed a 3 but make a steal to set up his free throws in the final minute.
WAMPUS CATS 43, HORNETS 42
Score by quarter
BRYANT 10 16 10 6 — 42
Conway Blue 10 16 9 8 — 43
Montgomery 2-5 1-3 5, Adams 0-4 0-1 0, Ledbetter 2-9 3-4 7, Schrader 3-7 0-0 7, Brunson 0-2 0-0 0, Riggs 4-7 0-2 12, Schroeder 0-2 0-1 0, Aldridge 5-8 1-2 11. Totals 16-44 (36%) 5-13 (38%) 42.
WAMPUS CATS 43
Nooner 4-14 0-0 10, Easly 4-9 2-2 12, Dunigan 2-7 0-0 4, Williams 5-8 1-2 11, Orr 3-4 0-0 6, Garlington 0-1 0-0 0, Duncan 0-2 0-0 0, Hardaway 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-45 (40%) 3-4 (75%) 43.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 5-15 (Riggs 4-5, Schrader 1-2, Ledbetter 0-4, Adams 0-3, Schroeder 0-1), Conway Blue 4-14 (Nooner 2-8, Easly 2-4, Williams 0-1, Garlington 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 14, Conway Blue 17. Rebounds: Bryant 9-20 29 (Aldridge 2-5 7, Ledbetter 0-6 6, Schrader 3-1 4, Brunson 2-2 4, Riggs 2-2 4, Montgomery 0-2 2, Adams 0-1 1, Schroeder 0-1), Conway Blue 6-22 (Orr 0-10 10, Williams 3-6 9, Dunigan 0-3 3, Nooner 1-2 3, Easly 1-1 2). Team fouls: Bryant 8, Conway Blue 13. Fouled out: Conway Blue, Dunigan.