NORTH LITTLE ROCK — Once again, the third quarter was not kind to the Bryant Hornets against the North Little Rock Charging Wildcats.
When the two teams played in Bryant on Jan. 23, the Hornets were down just 24-21 at the half and, in the third quarter, managed just 4 points as they went 1 for 9 from the field. North Little Rock took advantage to forge a 55-37 win.
On Tuesday, at the Charging Wildcats’ arena, the halftime score was the same, 24-21. This time, the Hornets managed just 5 points in the third quarter. North Little Rock did even better than before by erupting for 27 points.
Though Bryant continued to battle, whittling a 27-point deficit down to 16 at one point, the Wildcats prevailed 66-46, earning a 7A-Central Conference championship and the No. 1 seed from the league to next week’s State tournament, which will be held on their home court.
Bryant, 16-10 and 7-6, will battle Conway in their regular-season finale at home on Friday. The league’s No. 3 seed will be on the line.
Hornets head coach Mike Abrahamson talked with his team for an extended time after the game. Asked about the importance of the next game, he responded, “I’m more concerned about how we’re playing rather than who we’re playing or what seed we’re playing for.
“It’s been a grind and I’ve asked a lot, specifically of our starters,” he explained. “We’re starting to develop a seventh and eighth person that we’re more comfortable with playing. But this season has taken a toll. No one in that locker room has ever played this many games, this many varsity practices and we’ve had a brutal schedule.
“I’m not making an excuse,” the coach asserted. “I’m just saying that it’s a real thing. It’s more mental fatigue than physical fatigue. I’m challenging them to give us one more go at it. We can’t pack it in. We can’t start looking at next year. We can’t start looking at the AAU season. We’ve got to go one more round in this thing. We ain’t done yet. We’re still coming.”
Though they’ve lost back-to-back games now and really struggled in the third quarter, the team’s fourth quarter certainly indicated they weren’t letting go of the proverbial rope.
Khalen Robinson and Deron Canada each had 12 points but the Hornets just couldn’t slow down North Little Rock’s duo of Collin Moore and Moses Moody who combined for 43 points including 21 of the 27 during the third-quarter blitz.
“Very similar,” Abrahamson acknowledged, regarding the two meetings with North Little Rock. “You can’t turn the ball over. You just can’t. You can’t give them easy stuff.
“I mean, they’re going to get hard stuff because they’re so talented and athletic and long,” he said. “They’re going to get some offensive rebounds. They’re going to get second and third opportunities. Then, when you give them stuff easy on top of that, it just breaks our spirit and gets them going even better.
“We just went through a bad stretch there,” the coach added. “We weren’t scoring and they were getting whatever they wanted. I look up and our best player, Robinson, is in foul trouble. We slip when he’s off the court. You look up and it’s just gotten away from you.”
Part of the difference was that the Charging Wildcats played mostly man-to-man defense in the first half. To start the second half, they came out in a 1-2-2 trapping zone that they extended initially to three-quarter court. The 6-4 Moore or the 6-5 Moody played at the front of the zone, making it difficult for the Hornets to get passes through from one side of the court to the other and, thus, get into their offense.
Bryant had six turnovers in the first half but doubled that in the third quarter.
“The bad part of the first half was that I thought we were getting good looks at the basket, shots that we really like and, boy, it would’ve really helped to make some more of those,” Abrahamson related. “We really did not shoot it well. But I really liked what we were doing offensively.
“They played a little bit more ‘man’ and we were able to attack that a little bit better,” he explained. “I thought, when they did go to zone, we handled it really well and still got good looks. But then, the third quarter, they’re in the same zone and we just kind of throw it to them, float passes instead of crisp and we don’t throw enough pass-fakes at them to get them leaning and jumping. It just gets away from you.
“And North Little Rock deserves credit for that too because they really turned it up,” the coach concluded.
The lead seesawed for much of the first half. Down 6-3, the Hornets surged when Robinson hit a jumper in the lane off a nice feed from Canada off a back-door move. Canada added a 3 to put the Hornets ahead 8-6.
After Moore hit a layup then added two free throws, Sam Chumley drained a 3 off another dish from Canada to make it 11-10.
A drive by Spencer Sims put North Little Rock on top at the end of the quarter, 12-11, but Robinson tied it with a free throw in the opening minute of the second stanza. And, a basket off the offensive glass by K.J. Merriweather added to the Hornets’ lead.
But the game was tied at 15 and 21 before the half was over. A 3-pointer by Ray Fresh with 1:18 left gave the Cats the halftime lead.
To start the second half, North Little Rock went on a 24-2 run to blow the game open. The only interruption came on two free throws from Rodney Lambert 1:30 into the half. That had Bryant within 28-23 at the time.
But Moore was fouled on a dunk and competed the three-point play and the Cats were rolling again. Moore added another slam along the way and Moody turned in a four-point play when he was fouled while draining a 3.
Bryant’s first field goal of the half came with 1:47 left in the quarter. Chumley scored it on an inbounds play under the Hornets’ bucket.
North Little Rock led 51-26 going into the fourth quarter. Canada opened the final period with a basket inside and a 3 off a kick-out by Lambert. Moody answered with a 7-0 run of his own. Canada and Moody traded 3’s then Robinson popped one to start a final Bryant push.
Robinson made a steal that led to a three-point play. Camren Harris knocked down a 3 then scored on a goal-tending call on his running floater.
The lead was down to 61-45 as North Little Rock coach Johnny Rice called timeout. From there, the Cats put the finishing touches on the win. A three-point play by Moore on Robinson’s fifth foul took the last of the starch out of the Hornets.
CHARGING WILDCATS 66, HORNETS 46
Score by quarters
BRYANT 11 10 5 20 — 46
No. Little Rock 12 12 27 15 — 66
HORNETS (16-10, 7-6) 46
Hunter 3-8 1-2 8, Robinson 3-7 5-7 12, Chumley 2-7 2-2 7, Lambert 0-3 3-4 3, Canada 4-14 1-2 12, Merriweather 1-3 0-1 2, Wallace 1-1 0-0 2, Hilkert 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 14-42 (33%) 12-18 (67%) 46.
CHARGING WILDCATS (23-5, 11-2) 66
Jordan 1-3 0-0 3, Fresh 3-7 0-1 7, Watkins 0-2 0-0 0, Mo.Moody 8-13 3-3 22, Moore 6-8 9-12 21, Sims 2-5 0-0 4, Fudge 2-4 0-0 6, Thrower 1-2 0-0 3, Washington 0-0 0-0 0, Veasley 0-2 0-0 0, Mi.Moody 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-46 (50%) 12-16 (75%) 66.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 6-26 (Canada 3-12, Chumley 1-5, Robinson 1-4, Hunter 1-3, Lambert 0-1, Merriweather 0-1), North Little Rock 8-20 (Mo.Moody 3-6, Fudge 2-3, Jordan 1-3, Fresh 1-3, Thrower 1-2, Watkins 0-1, Moore 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 14, North Little Rock 11. Rebounds: Bryant 10-16 26 (Robinson 2-5 7, Canada 2-4 6, Merriweather 2-1 3, Hunter 0-2 2, Chumley 0-2 2, Lambert 0-1 1, Wallace 1-0 1, Hilkert 1-0 1, team 2-1 3), North Little Rock 10-23 33 (Mo.Moody 3-7 10, Moore 2-4 6, Fresh 1-3 4, Sims 1-3 4, Fudge 0-2 2, Veasley 2-0 2, Jordan 0-1 1, Watkins 0-1 1, Washington 0-1 1, team 1-1 2). Team fouls: Bryant 16, North Little Rock 15. Fouled out: Bryant, Robinson.