Photos by Rick Nation
CABOT — On paper, it looked like a mismatch. As it turned out, it[more] was.
But not how you might figure at first glance.
The Rogers Mounties, the No. 2 seed from the 7A-West Conference, came into Thursday’s quarterfinal game of the Class 7A State Tournament sporting a front line that went 6-7, 6-6, and 6-4 with another pair of 6-4 players among the first off the bench.
The Bryant Hornets, seeded third out of the Central Conference, came into the game with just one starter over six-feet tall. Of course, the one that was taller than the rest was by a factor of Q — 6-7 senior Quinton Motto.
Well, not only did the Hornets match the taller Mounties on the boards (20 apiece) but they shot the lights out at Cabot High School’s Panther Arena, hitting 61 percent of their shots from the field. And they never trailed on the way to an impressive 53-37 win to advance to the tournament semifinals — the final four of Class 7A — a victory away from playing for a State title.
The Hornets are set to play at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 4, against defending State champion and top-ranked Little Rock Hall in the semifinal, with the winner advancing to Summit Arena in Hot Springs next weekend for the championship game.
It’s the first time a Bryant boys team, now 18-10 on the season, has put together two wins in a State tournament since 1981 when, it just so happens, they won it all.
“Like I told my team, to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best and we’re going to get our shot at the best,” said Hornets head coach Mike Abrahamson. “We’ve got tremendous respect for Hall. They’re a tremendous team. They run good stuff. They’ve got talent; they’ve got depth; they’ve got size; they’ve got athleticism; they’ve got shooters. I mean, they’ve got everything. We’re going to have to play our best game to have a chance to win that game.”
The Hornets came close to playing that well against Rogers. The Mounties started in zone, which proved to slow the game down but the Hornets stayed patient. They worked the ball to get the defense to move then guards Jordan Griffin, Brantley Cozart or Anthony Black would get penetration — sometimes not much but just enough — then kick-out a pass to a teammate near the 3-point line. They knocked down four triples in the first half and two more in the third quarter.
And, to their credit, they rarely forced a shot.
Cozart and Black finished with 13 apiece. Griffin had 7 despite foul trouble much of the game. Motto scored 8 and had a game-high six rebounds. Marcus Wilson canned a pair of 3’s for his 6 points. Both came in the third quarter, helping fend off a Rogers’ rally. Senior Logan Trudell contributed a clutch 3 and Zach Cambron contributed 3 in the final period.
“I like my guards,” Abrahamson said. “We wanted to play inside out basketball. I don’t know that we were great at that from throwing it to the post and kicking it out but we got it going pretty good by driving and kicking.
“We wanted (Rogers’ defense) to have to move and make decisions and we were stressing to our team to move the ball and move yourself, be in constant movement,” he added. “I don’t think we did that very well in the first half. We were a little stagnant, even though we were making some shots. We did a little better job in the second half.”
As Abrahamson has noted throughout the season, shooting seems to affect everything.
“The main thing is that we were able to score points,” he acknowledged. “Our defense was good and I’m proud of it but I knew, if we were going to win this game, we were going have to score points.
“Looking at their scores, they prefer it to be in the 20’s or 30’s it seemed,” the coach mentioned regarding Rogers. “I knew that was not an advantage to us. I knew if we could get to 40 we had a chance. And we were able to make some shots and do that. That was huge for us. When you’re able to make shots, everything seems to work just a little bit better.”
But Rogers didn’t break 30 points until the last three minutes of the game despite the strength and size inside, particularly with 6-6 Josh Anderson and 6-7 Nathan Musso. It came down to “sink and dig.”
“Their big guys are so good,” Abrahamson acknowledged. “We knew we had to stop them but, at the same time, they’ve got some shooters. We chose to try to stop their inside game. (Anderson) had 17 points so it doesn’t look like we did a tremendous job on him. I think we did enough to maybe slow them down, take them out of rhythm.”
In fact, 8 of Anderson’s 17 came in those final three minutes of the game. And Musso was held scoreless.
“We knew they were going to be able to throw it to them but we tried to have a plan for when they got it inside,” Abrahamson said of Anderson and Musso. “When they did that, what we wanted to do was make them kick it back out instead of going for the shot.”
That’s where “sink and dig” came in.
“We sink to the ball and dig at the ball, get a hand in there,” the coach explained, referring to his guards who helped out when the ball went inside. “The problem is, when you swipe in a downward motion, you get foul calls. We want to swipe with an upward motion or side-to-side. We’re still learning that. We had a few fouls called on swiping down on the ball. It was a point of emphasis.”
It frustrated the Mounties into some traveling violations once they got the ball inside and started to try to make a move on Motto or Cambron or Greyson Giles. One of the guards would help out and "sink and dig."
“The second half, we went more with Zach and Quinton in there together because of their size,” Abrahamson said. “Us having the lead enabled us to do that because, on offense sometimes that’s a liability, just because we don’t do it very often and it’s not a familiar thing. The match-up dictated us putting them both in.”
The Bryant coach also changed up his defense. After running and jumping some in the half-court, pressing some and playing a mix of zone and man, the Hornets came out showing a match-up zone look but Abrahamson wanted his team to play man out of that look to further complicate things for the Mounties.
Again, it helped to have the lead and the Hornets had that as soon as Motto canned a 10-foot jumper off a feed from Cozart, snapping a 2-2 tie with 4:14 left in the first quarter.
Cozart, off a kickout from Griffin, drained the game’s first 3 and Bryant had a 7-2 edge. A three-point play by Anderson cut it to 2 but, in the final seconds, Cozart drove and set up Trudell for a 3 and, going into the second quarter, the Hornets had doubled up the Mounties, 10-5.
Bryant built the lead to as much as 8 in the second period, the first time when Cozart fired in a deep 3 with 3:04 left in the half. A 3 by Rogers’ Cameron Carroll helped whittle the lead back to 5 and, trailing 20-15, the Mounties had a chance to get closer after a Bryant turnover. But Cozart made a steal and the Hornets worked for the last shot which Cozart took, a leaner off a drive that knocked out the bottom of the net for a 22-15 halftime lead.
Collin Jones’ trey to start the second half had the Mounties with 4 but when Motto followed with a jumper in the lane then made a steal that eventually led to Wilson’s first troika from the left corner off a dish from Black, Rogers never got that close again.
Trevor Hampton hit a turnaround jumper but another drive by Black set up a second 3 by Wilson that gave Bryant its first double-digit lead at 30-20.
Rogers, which struggled at the free-throw line in the game (7 of 15) had chances to whittle on the lead at the line in the final couple of minutes in the quarter but could only get within 32-24.
Griffin fed Cambron for a basket inside to start the fourth quarter and, after a rash of turnovers, Cozart drove for a bucket to make it 36-24. The Mounties didn’t score in the final stanza until it was nearly half over. Hampton hit a free throw but, by then the Hornets had started to spread the floor on offense. Black drove for a bucket to make it 38-25 and the Hornets’ maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the game.
After attempting just two free throws in the first three quarters, the Hornets went 11 for 13 in the final 2:30 of the game. They led 42-32 with 2:06 left then before Rogers could score again, Griffin hit two free throws, Black made a steal and a three-point play then Cozart converted twice at the line, producing the game’s largest margin of 17 with :58.1 to go.
Anderson hit a 3 but free throws by Black, Cambron and Cozart helped close it out.
HORNETS 53, MOUNTIES 37
Score by quarters
BRYANT 10 12 10 21 — 53
Rogers 5 10 9 13 — 37
HORNETS (18-10) 53
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Black 4-8 5-5 0-2 2 1 13
Griffin 1-2 4-4 0-1 1 3 7
Cozart 4-7 3-4 0-3 3 3 13
Wilson 2-2 0-0 1-2 3 2 6
Motto 4-7 0-0 3-3 6 2 8
Giles 0-0 0-0 0-2 2 0 0
Cambron 1-1 1-2 0-2 2 4 3
Trudell 1-1 0-0 0-0 0 1 3
Royal 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Davis 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Team 0-1 1
Total 17-28 13-15 4-16 20 16 53
MOUNTIES (19-9) 37
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb fls pts
Carroll 1-6 2-2 0-2 2 4 5
C.Jones 3-6 1-2 1-1 2 0 9
Henry 1-1 0-0 1-1 2 3 2
Anderson 7-13 2-3 4-1 5 3 17
Musso 0-2 0-2 1-1 2 2 0
Holt 0-0 0-2 0-0 0 0 0
Hampton 1-3 1-2 2-0 2 1 3
Z.Jones 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 1 0
Hill 0-1 1-2 1-0 1 3 1
Breshears 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 0
Ryals 0-2 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Team 2-2 4
Total 13-35 7-15 12-8 20 18 37
Three-point field goals: Bryant 6-12 (Cozart 2-5, Wilson 2-2, Griffin 1-2, Trudell 1-1, Black 0-2), Rogers 4-14 (C.Jones 2-4, Carroll 1-4, Anderson 1-3, Ryals 0-2, Hill 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 11, Rogers 14.