File photo by Kevin Nagle
VAN BUREN — With six minutes left in the first half, the Bryant Hornets held an 18-14 lead over the Van Buren Pointers at Clair Bates Athletic Arena on Friday night. In fact, Bryant had led almost the whole way. The Pointers trimmed it to 1 then forced a turnover. Point guard Jaylynn Dye got out front on a break and when he got to the basket, flipped the ball up onto the backboard. His teammate, 6-10 junior Mitchell Smith came flying in behind him, snatched the carom off the board and slammed it home in one motion.
It was a spectacular play — the most spectacular of a handful of dunks by Smith — that will probably be on YouTube somewhere and it brought the house down, highlighting a 16-0 run by the Pointers to end the first half, turning that 4-point deficit into 30-18 halftime lead.
The young Hornets, still without their ailing junior leader Kevin Hunt, never quite recovered as Van Buren went on to win 60-38, led by Smith’s 27 points. He had eight rebounds, blocked five shots and altered most any other attempt that he was around. He was 11 of 13 from the field, a big part of why the Pointers shot 54 percent.
The contest matched the last two Central Conference teams without a loss just 10 days into the league campaign. The Pointers improved to 12-4 overall and 3-0 in conference while Bryant fell to 8-8 and 2-1.
The Pointers have already defeated perennial Central powerhouse Conway, 52-45.
Smith, who has already received NCAA Division I scholarship offers from Arkansas, Oklahoma State and Creighton, is the best big man Bryant has faced since they took on the Little Rock Hall Warriors and Bobby Portis (now a star for the Razorbacks) in the 2012 Class 7A State tourney semifinals. Though leaner and perhaps a little better leaper, he has a very Portis-esque game.
“They’re very good,” Bryant coach Mike Abrahamson said of the Van Buren team. “(Smith) is a lot to deal with. He just changes the game completely, not only with his size but, I mean, with his athleticism and, on top of that, he’s pretty skilled. I can see why Arkansas wants him. I can see why they offered him. He’s of that caliber. And then they’ve got other good players around him.”
The Hornets could get very little going at the basket or in the lane. Relogated to a perimeter game, Bryant shot just three free throws on the night while Van Buren went 15 of 20.
“It was tough, it was tough,” acknowledged Abrahamson. “(Smith) does a really good job of being the second one off the floor, not fouling and still blocking the shot. I tell you, I’d seen him on film. I’d never seen him in person and he’s better than I thought he was. He’s a handful.
“It’s rare for us to only shoot three free throws but that’s what happens, that’s the kind of impact a guy like that can have,” he continued. “Even other teams that have big guys don’t always have that kind of impact. He’s a special player. He deserves a lot of credit. Coach (Randy) Loyd and the other guys deserve a lot of credit for what they did. That’s also their plan. They’ll clog it up and if you get in there, they know how to go to plan B.”
The Hornets’ fast start was sparked by their 3-point shooting and inspired defense. Senior Wesley Peters drained a pair of 3’s, Romen Martin connected once and Marvin Moody stepped out to knock one down.
Peters hit one to start the scoring in the game. Smith scored inside then, after his first dunk, on an alley-oop pass from Rustin Hawkins, the Hornets put together a 7-0 surge. Calvin Allen got free for a jumper in the lane, Moody hit his 3 and Allen added a 12-footer.
Van Buren’s Jason Harms connected on his team’s first triple, Smith scored off another lob and Dye made a steal and layup to give the Pointers an 11-10 edge. But 3’s by Martin and Peters closed out the quarter with the Hornets back up 16-11.
A three-point play by Smith was countered by Antavious Lewis off an inbounds play under the Bryant basket. But that’s when Van Buren’s big run began.
“I think we put them on their heels, so to speak, at the beginning of the game,” Abrahamson said. “We executed our offense. We were really getting after them and disrupting them on defense.
“But like good teams do, they responded, made a few adjustments and tightened up their defense and clogged that lane up so we couldn’t drive,” he noted. “They clogged up our cutters. They turned us over a few times and turned that into transition points. They responded to getting punched in the mouth.”
Allen opened the second half with a jumper to make it 30-20 but the Pointers put together a 12-0 spurt before the Hornets’ Kaleb Turner nailed a 3. Martin made a steal that resulted in a three-point play then Lewis swiped a pass and Martin drove for a scoop shot that got the Hornets from down 22 to down 14 with some momentum. It forced a Van Buren timeout.
“I want to say this,” Abrahamson stated. “Every time I ask my team to respond, they do. Every time I ask them to fight back, they do. And if that’s the case, we’re onto something good. I’m very proud of that. We had lulls but we never backed down. We never packed it in, never gave up. They continued to fight back to the very end.”
Out of the timeout, however, the Pointers reeled off a 9-0 stretch to regain control.
“When you stop scoring, you have a lull in every area, defensive energy drops and they’re able to get dunks,” said Abrahamson. “I try to call timeouts and stop it but there’s only so much you can do against a really good team.
“This is part of our process,” he asserted. “I don’t think, for our team, it’s as bad as some of our players think. I think there’s a lot we can gain from this.
“We haven’t really had a game like that this year where it got away from us,” the coach related. “Our kids are disappointed and our kids are upset but, what I saw is, when we do what we’re coached to do we can hang with good teams. We can compete.
“But, part of our process is, with a lot of youth, sometimes those off-the-backboard dunks carry over for three or four more plays with the crowd and the environment. We stop doing things that we do in practice as sharp, as crisp, as well as we do. It’s a learning experience.”
The Hornets return home this Tuesday to play Russellville.
POINTERS 60, HORNETS 38
Score by quarters
BRYANT 16 2 10 10 — 38
Van Buren 11 19 17 13 — 60
HORNETS (8-8, 2-1) 38
C.Allen 3-6 0-0 6, Turner 1-5 0-0 3, Peters 2-5 0-2 6, Moody 1-2 0-0 3, Washington 0-3 0-0 0, Martin 5-13 1-1 13, Sahr 1-1 0-0 2, Lewis 1-3 0-0 2, Ingold 0-0 0-0 0, R.Allen 1-2 0-0 3, Cowart 0-0 0-0 0, McIntosh 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 15-42 (36%) 1-3 (33%) 38.
POINTERS (12-5, 3-0) 60
Dye 3-5 0-0 6, Harms 2-7 1-2 6, Kinney 1-3 0-0 3, Hawkins 2-4 2-2 6, Smith 11-13 5-7 27, Barlow 0-0 0-0 0, Beckner 1-4 6-6 9, Salisbury 0-0 0-0 0, Chambers 0-0 0-0 0, Thomas 1-2 0-0 3, Johnson 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 21-39 (54%) 15-20 (75%) 60.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 7-18 (Martin 2-6, Peters 2-4, Turner 1-4, R.Allen 1-2, Moody 1-1, Lewis 0-1), Van Buren 3-10 (Harms 1-4, Kinney 1-3, Thomas 1-2, Johnson 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 18, Van Buren 15. Rebounds: Bryant 5-6 11 (Martin 2-2 4, Turner 0-1 1, Washington 0-1 1, Sahr 0-1 1, McIntosh 1-0 1, team 2-1 3), Van Buren 9-21 30 (Smith 5-3 8, Harms 2-5 7, Dye 0-3 3, Beckner 0-2 2, Hawkins 1-1 2, Kinney 0-1 1, Barlow 0-1 1, Salisbury 0-1 1, team 1-4 5). Team fouls: Bryant 22, Van Buren 7. Fouled out: Bryant, Moody.