By Rob Patrick
LITTLE ROCK — “We’ve got to put this behind us now and get ready for the[more] State Tournament,” declared Bryant Lady Hornets head coach Brad Matthews.
He said it, seemingly, as an exhortation to himself as much as anything after a 45-36 loss to the Little Rock Central Lady Tigers on Friday night in one of those games that leaves a bad taste.
Central, out of post-season play, we finishing up its season at home, playing loose and fast. Bryant, a State bid in its pocket and, as it turned out, no seeding implications from the outcome, seemed to let its frustration in the second half dull its focus. And the game slipped away.
Bryant had beaten Central 58-50 at home earlier this season.
The Lady Hornets retained the No. 4 seed from the 7A-Central Conference despite the loss. That’s because the only team that could’ve knocked them down to fifth was West Memphis. But the Lady Blue Devils lost too, against Little Rock Parkview.
As the No. 4 seed, Bryant will open the Class 7A State Tournament on Wednesday, Feb. 29, at 7 p.m., against Bentonville in Cabot. The two teams met at Bentonville’s tournament in Bryant’s fourth game of the season. The Lady Tigers prevailed 53-44.
Matthews had hoped his team could pick up the win so it wouldn’t be heading to State on a three-game losing streak. But two of those losses were against a pair of the top teams in the state, Cabot and North Little Rock, and the Lady Hornets threatened to knock off the Lady Charging Wildcats.
“We were just a little lethargic all night,” Matthews said of Friday’s loss. “We gave up a lot of offensive rebounds. We took some bad shots which led to them getting out in transition. They’re good at transition and they got some easy baskets that way and with those offensive rebounds.”
After Bryant converted 15 of 18 free throws in the first half while building a 21-14 lead, Central hit 13 of 18 in the second half and surged to the victory. The Lady Tigers had attempted just two from the line in the opening half while the Lady Hornets went 5 of 7 after intermission.
Asked what the difference was, Matthews had no comment.
Perhaps it was only that the two teams switched ends.
In the first half, Central fouled instead of giving up layups. So the Lady Hornets only wound up with three field goals to go with its 15 of 18 shooting from the line. Dezerea Duckworth led the team with 8 points, all from the line, gaining those trips by attacking the Central defense.
She would finish with a game-high 16 points. Kiara Moore had 9 and Courtney Davidson 6 for Bryant.
Central’s guard tandem of Taylor Lewis and Jamie Ruffins combined for 27 points. Each had 4 at the half.
The game was tied repeatedly in the first half, the last time at 12 early in the second quarter. Duckworth hit a free throw to snap that deadlock then Lewis drove for a layup to put Central ahead by a point with 4:02 left in the half.
Davidson drove past her defender for a basket to put the Lady Hornets ahead and, after a Central turnover, she posted up and hit a jump hook to add to the margin. Duckworth would add four free throws for the only points in the final three minutes as Bryant took a 21-14 lead at the half.
It could’ve been a much larger lead except for the Lady Hornets’ 3 of 18 shooting from the field.
Bryant’s largest lead came early in the third quarter. After Central’s Kendra Caroline scored, Duckworth got inside for a bucket and, later, Moore drove for a layup to make it 25-16.
A pair of quick baskets by Lewis and another by Caroline whittled the lead to 25-22. With 3:44 left in the period, Duckworth scored as she was fouled. Though she missed her free throw, Davidson snapped down the rebound and tried to follow. But the shot refused to fall.
All too tellingly, at the other end, Central missed but Chloe Washington rebounded and scored.
A stickback by Aubree Allen answered for the Lady Hornets, keeping the Lady Hornets ahead, 29-24. But the Lady Tigers scored the next 10 points. They led 32-29 by the end of the quarter.
A turning point followed early in the final period. After a Bryant turnover and a miss by Central’s Brittney Ruffus, Moore drove to the rack, scored and appeared to be fouled, setting up a chance at a game-tying three-point play. But it was all wiped out when Moore was cited for charging, a call that drew the wrath of the Bryant fans and protests from Matthews.
It was also Moore’s fourth foul of the game.
Bryant had a couple of chances to overcome that but couldn’t get a pair of shots from close range to fall. A Central turnover created a third opportunity only to have Ruffins make a steal. She went to the line and hit twice to make it 34-29.
Allen converted a free throw to break a Bryant drought and the Lady Hornets had a chance to get closer when Lewis missed a pair of free throws with 4:33 to go. They got two shots but couldn’t find the range. Ruffins wound up at the line on the other end and converted twice to bump the margin to 6. A bucket off a drive by Caroline made it 38-30 then, after Central’s Courtney Hines blocked a shot by Duckworth, Washington converted from the line to make it 39-30.
With 1:48 left, Duckworth converted a bonus opportunity as Caroline fouled out. A miss by Central gave the Lady Hornets a chance to draw within 4 or 5 but, on a held ball, Central gained possession and Lewis drove for a layup.
The Lady Tigers eventually led by as much as 10.
“We gave them some opportunities and they took advantage,” Matthews said. “I thought the first half, we did a really good job. The second half, we just didn’t do a good job of going and getting the rebounds.”
LADY TIGERS 45, LADY HORNETS 36
Score by quarters
BRYANT 12 9 8 7 — 36
LR Central 10 4 18 13 — 45
LADY HORNETS (14-14, 6-8) 36
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Duckworth 2-12 12-15 3-2 5 4 16
Davis 0-6 2-2 0-1 1 4 2
Moore 3-7 3-4 0-2 2 4 9
Hogancamp 0-1 0-0 0-2 2 0 0
Davidson 2-6 2-2 3-6 9 5 6
Meyer 0-0 0-2 1-5 6 1 0
Murphy 0-1 0-0 2-1 3 0 0
Allen 1-3 1-2 2-2 4 3 3
Weaver 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Team 1-3 4
Total 8-36 20-27 12-24 36 21 36
LADY TIGERS (9-17, 3-11) 45
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Lewis 5-13 5-8 0-1 1 1 15
Ruffins 3-11 6-8 0-9 9 0 12
Caroline 4-7 0-0 3-0 0 5 8
Washington 2-3 1-2 3-0 3 5 5
Nichols 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Ruffus 2-0 0-0 3-2 5 2 4
Cashaw 0-8 1-2 2-3 5 2 1
Hines 0-0 0-0 0-5 5 4 0
Ready 0-0 0-0 1-0 1 0 0
Team 1-1 2
Total 16-51 13-20 13-21 34 19 45
Three-point field goals: Bryant 0-3 (Moore 0-2, Davis 0-1), LR Central 0-10 (Lewis 0-5, Ruffins 0-3, Ruffus 0-2). Turnovers: Bryant 18, LR Central 10.