By Rob Patrick
FAYETTEVILLE — Few will be surprised if it turns out, when all is said and done, that for the second[more] year in a row, it took the eventual champion to knock the Bryant Hornets out of the Class 7A State Tournament.
In 2012, it was Little Rock Hall. This year, it’ll be a stunner if it’s not North Little Rock.
In Friday’s quarterfinals, the 27-1 Charging Wildcats were as impressive as you can imagine, running out to a 30-12 lead by the end of the first quarter by converting 12 of their 15 shots from the field (80 percent) including 3 of 5 3-pointers, on the way to an overwhelming 82-44 win that ended Bryant’s season.
Even with reserves finishing out the game in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats shot 56 percent from the field (33 of 59) and 9 of 17 on 3’s. Senior Thomas Alexander led the team with 25 points in three quarters including three triples and four dunks.
“They’re unbelievable,” said Bryant head coach Mike Abrahamson, whose team had lost to North Little Rock 81-60 at the Coke Classic in Fort Smith over the Christmas break. “They don’t have a weakness. Anyone that beats them, I sure would like to see that game.
“I can’t believe how well they shoot,” he continued. “It’s incredible. They’re so athletic. They have great guards. Alexander is a game-changer and they shoot it so well, what do you do?”
Host Fayetteville, which lost to Hall (now in 6A) in the finals last year, appears to be the most likely possibility, after having won the West Conference championship.
“We wanted to play a zone, get them to take contested shots,” Abrahamson said. “We knew they’d make some. They made a lot. Then we wanted to get the first rebound. But to say that is one thing and doing it is another.
“Now, I think we could’ve done better,” he asserted. “Don’t get me wrong.”
For Bryant, junior Tyler Simmons and sophomore K.J. Hill combined for 42 of their team’s 44 points. Simmons had 22 including three treys. Hill added 20 in three quarters of play.
The game opened in encouraging fashion for Bryant when Hill made a steal and drove for a layup. Alexander missed his first shot and the Hornets rebounded only to throw it away. The teams traded misses before North Little Rock’s Gary Vines was fouled and broke the ice with a free throw for the Wildcats, starting a 28-4 onslaught.
“K.J. gets a steal and a layup then we have a couple more opportunities,” Abrahamson recounted. “It just seemed like, if we could’ve got a couple more of those early when they did miss a few. The outcome, I don’t think, would’ve been any different. I don’t know. They were overwhelming tonight but maybe it would’ve gone a little differently, maybe we would’ve hunt in there a little longer.
“I will say this, K.J. Hill and Tyler Simmons are good players and they’re talented but their mindset was what we were looking for,” he stated. “They just weren’t going to back down. They weren’t going to be intimidated. I was proud of that.”
Simmons hit 3’s on either side of a follow-stuff by Alexander and it was 30-12 going into the second quarter.
Hill hit a free throw and answered a three-point play by Vines with a 3 from the right wing. Simmons drove for a bucket and it was 33-18.
North Little Rock closed the half with a 16-6 surge to make it 49-24 at the half. The Wildcats then opened the third quarter with an 11-1 rush that was capped by back-to-back dunks from Kevaughn Allen and Alexander.
The lead grew to 67-29 before Hill scored 8 straight points at the end of the third quarter. North Little Rock still led by 30 going into the fourth quarter and pulled all of its top rotation players as the Arkansas Activities Association sportsmanship rule kicked in.
The only Bryant points not scored by Simmons and Hill were a pair of free throws by senior Zach Cambron with 6:32 left in the game. Those tosses shaved on what had grown to a 35-point lead. The final matched the largest difference.
The game marked the end of the BHS careers of Cambron and fellow seniors Strodney Davis, Skyler McKissock and Luke Rayburn. Abrahamson had all of them on the floor together in the fourth quarter and brought them out at the same time with under five minutes left.
“For the ones not coming back, our seniors — I love them and I’ll miss them,” he said. “I wish it could’ve ended a little bit differently for them.
“The ones that are coming back, we’ve got to sit on this and I’m interested to see how they handle that,” the coach concluded. “I told them that tonight didn’t go the way we wanted it to go and this is a horrible feeling but we’re changing the program. You know, we were 18-11 last year and went to the State semifinals. We’re 19-10 this year and we win a game at State — that’s back-to-back years of not only going to State but winning a game (for the first time since the late 70’s, early 80’s). It’s not where we want it but it’s hopefully headed that way. We’ve just got to keep, every day, getting better and growing.”
CHARGING WILDCATS 82, HORNETS 44
Score by quarters
BRYANT1212137 — 44
North Little Rock30191815 — 82
HORNETS (19-10) 44
K.J. Hill7-185-70-3 3120
CHARGING WILDCATS (27-1) 44
Three-point field goals: Bryant 4-17 (Simmons 3-9, K.J. Hill 1-4, Cambron 0-2, McKissock 0-1, Murray 0-1), North Little Rock 9-17 (Alexander 3-6, McCuen 2-2, Watkins 1-3, Allen 1-3, Eldridge 1-2, Kh.Hill 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 18, North Little Rock 9.