Top-ranked Lady Bears hold off Lady Hornets’ comeback

For more photos of this event by Rick Nation, go here

McKenzie Muse finished with 9 points and nine rebounds Friday night. (Photo by Rick Nation)

After getting behind by as much as 16 in the second half, the Bryant Lady Hornets trailed just 47-41 with 6:07 left to play against the top-ranked Fort Smith Northside Lady Bears on Friday night at Hornet Arena.

And the Lady Hornets’ Celena Martin made a steal to give her team a chance to get even closer. The two teams traded missed shots and, with a second try at trimming the margin to less than half dozen, Bryant turned the ball over.

This time, Northside’s Jazz Coleman drove for a layup with 5:11 left to play to start a 9-0 burst to close out the game with a closer-than-that final of 56-41.

The Lady Bears improved to 19-3 overall, 8-0 in the 6A-Central Conference. Bryant is now 12-8 overall and 4-4 in league play, tied with North Little Rock for third, going into a trip to Mount St. Mary Academy in Little Rock on Tuesday.

“It’s the fifth time we’ve played them in two years and every game is very similar,” said Lady Hornets head coach Brad Matthews, regarding Friday’s battle. “We come out, play well early, then they get an 8 to 10-point lead. We make a run, but we haven’t been able to get over the hump yet.

“Give them credit,” he continued. “There’s a reason they’re ranked number one and they’re the defending State champs. They’re so big, so physical, so athletic. They just took advantage of their height and their size. And they did a good job in the second half of getting good shots.

The Lady Hornets gather around head coach Brad Matthews and assistant Joanna Scott during a timeout. (Photo by Rick Nation)

“Our kids played hard,” the coach stated. “They fought. I’ve just got to do a better job shoring up the defensive stuff and a better job getting us shots, especially in that second quarter.”

The lead had seesawed in the first quarter. Bryant trailed 10-5 when McKenzie Muse drained a 3. Moments later, Martin made a steal and layup to tie the game. A drive by Parris Atkins with 2:58 left in the quarter, gave Bryant a 12-10 lead.

By the end of the period, Northside had overtaken the Lady Hornets and held a 16-12 lead going into the second. Muse drove for a basket to cut the margin to 2 but a Bryant drought followed.

Tracey Bershers hit a 3 to start an 11-1 stretch. Jersey Wolfenbarger, who was the MVP of last spring’s 6A State Tournament and scored 24 points Friday, hit a short shot with 1:21 left to put the Lady Bears up 27-15.

Parris Atkins (10) fires a shot over Northside’s Eriel West. (Photo by Rick Nation)

Martin ended the Lady Hornets’ field goal drought with :42 left in the half, making it a 10-point margin at the half.

The Lady Hornets had managed just 5 points in the quarter.

“Some of that was missed shots,” Matthews said of his team’s 2 for 12 shooting in the period. “I don’t know, when you’re playing the number one team in the state, it’s tough to have those kinds of droughts, even at home, and overcome it.

“Still, we were down 6 with six minutes to go and had some momentum — make a layup here, make a shot there,” he reflected. “But give them credit. They’re really good, really long, really athletic.”

The Lady Hornets made a bit of a run in the third quarter. Wolfenbarger hit two free throws then India Atkins knocked down a 12-foot jumper. Wolfenbarger hit from 15 feet then Parris Atkins canned a jumper just inside the 3-point line. She followed with a steal and a layup as she was fouled. The three-point play had Bryant down 31-22. And when Ivory Russ got out in front of a fast break and score, the margin was just 7 with 4:13 left in the third.

But, as would be the case in the fourth quarter, Northside righted itself, sparked by a 3-pointer from Yonni Releford. Two buckets by Wolfenbarger inside then a follow shot for Eriel West game the Lady Bears their largest lead of the game, 40-24 with 1:53 left in the third quarter.

After a timeout, Bryant started to rally. Trotter hit a 3 then traded buckets with Wolfenbarger. It was 45-34 going into the fourth.

Trotter and Bershears swapped buckets to start the fourth but Parris Atkin’s pull-up jumper, followed by a 3 from McKenzie Muse cut the lead to 47-41.

Bryant was held scoreless over the final six minutes. The Lady Hornets wound up just 3 of 10 from the free-throw line and Northside finished with a 44-25 rebound advantage.

“It didn’t feel like we shot a very good percentage,” Matthews said, regarding his team’s 33 percent shooting from the floor (17 of 52). “When you don’t shoot it very well and you’ve still got a chance in the fourth quarter, I think it says something about our kids competing.

“But, to beat a good team, we’ve got to be able to put that stuff together,” he concluded. “We had it cut to 8 in Conway (last Friday). We had it cut to 6 tonight and we had momentum both times in the fourth quarter. To beat good teams here in about three weeks at the State tournament, if we can get in, we’ve got to shore that stuff up.”


Score by quarters

FS Northside   16        11        18        11 — 56

BRYANT           12        5          17        7 — 41

LADY BEARS (19-3, 8-0) 56

West 1-3 2-2 4, Wolfenbarger 9-19 5-5 24, Releford 3-10 1-6 9, Bershers 4-10 0-0 9, Coleman 2-2 2-2 6, Tillery1-5 0-0 2, Shelley 0-1 0-0 0, Felmmons 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 21-51 (41%) 10-15 (67%) 56.

LADY HORNETS (12-8, 4-4) 41

Taylor 0-4 0-0 0, P.Atkins 5-7 1-5 11, I.Atkins 1-5 0-0 2, Martin 3-5 0-0 6, Muse 3-15 1-2 9, Trotter 4-14 1-3 11, Russ 1-2 0-0 2, Scifres 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-52 (33%) 3-10 (30%) 41.

Three-point field goals: Bryant 4-25 (Muse 2-10, Trotter 2-7, Taylor 0-4, I.Atkins 0-3, Martin 0-1), Fort Smith Northside 4-12 (Releford 2-4, Bershers 1-5, Wolfenbarger 1-2, Shelley 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 11, Fort Smith Northside 12. Rebounds: Bryant 7-18 25 (Muse 2-7 9, P.Atkins 1-3 4, Trotter 0-4 4, Martin 1-2 3, Russ 1-1 2, Taylor 0-1 1, team 2-0 2), Fort Smith Northside 14-30 44 (Releford 6-5 11, Coleman 0-7 7, Bershers 0-5 5, Wolfenbarger 2-3 5, West 2-2 4, Tillery 2-1 3, Shelley 1-1 2, team 1-6 7). Team fouls:Bryant 13, Fort Smith Northside 10. 

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