VAN BUREN — It would’ve been so sweet in the shot had gone down. Senior Jordan Walker, who didn’t play much varsity earlier in the season but has worked his way into the rotation, had already hit a pair of 3’s in the game. With the Hornets down, 51-48, coming out of a timeout with :01.9 showing on the clock at Clare Bates Arena, Walker got a good look at a potential tying 3 from the left corner. It appeared true but the ball rimmed out and the Pointers held on for the win in the 7A/6A-Central Conference first-place showdown.
“The guys executed the stuff well,” said Hornets coach Mike Abrahamson. “We knew they’d take away Romen (Martin, who had hit four 3’s) and we ran some action for him just in case he got open. But we had a back-up plan with Jordan and that’s what we knew we’d probably get.
“He got a good look at it and just missed,” the coach continued. “He’s hit big shots before like in JV and practice, buzzer-beaters. So we had all the confidence in the world and he just missed it. But we got the look that we wanted.
“That happened a few times out of timeouts where the guys really executed something new that was drawn up for them,” he mentioned. “Out of about four of them, though, we only put one in the hole. But they got the looks that we wanted and that’s good. That shows some concentration. We’ve just got to finish.”
Bryant had beaten Van Buren at home 45-44. The Pointers 6-11 star Mitchell Smith fouled out of that game but, in the rematch at Van Buren, the big guy committed no fouls. The Pointers shot 16 of 23 from the free-throw line while the Hornets were 1 for 4, all in the first half.
But Abrahamson insisted that didn’t determine the outcome, noting that the Hornets shot 23 3-pointers in the game. Instead, he pointed to the first quarter when Van Buren ran out to a 13-3 lead.
“First quarter, for some reason — and I can’t figure it out or I would’ve already had it fixed by now — we tiptoe into things instead of bust right into it,” the coach related. “We were tiptoeing around that first quarter and because we were in a match-up zone, we stood around a little bit instead of having a sense of urgency. We weren’t in a stance and we didn’t move as fast as we should’ve and they got some looks at the basket that we didn’t like.
“Same on offense, we kind of jogged through our cuts instead of cutting hard,” he added. “We looked a little robotic instead of like basketball players. We have some structure with what we’re trying to do but they have freedom to go make plays.
“We got on them a little bit and they started to play better,” Abrahamson stated. “The second, third and fourth quarter, I was really proud of their effort.”
After that poor start, the Hornets outscored the Pointers 45-38.
Smith, who signed with Missouri, finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds but didn’t get his first basket in the second half until there was just 2:50 left in the game.
“That seven-footer makes a difference,” Abrahamson said. “That gives them a lot of margin for error and allows them to do some things that nobody else in our league can do. So they’re unique in that aspect.
“But two close games — it would appear that even though we’re very different, we are evenly matched,” he allowed.
Jaylynn Dye and Beau Beckner each had 12 points for the Pointers as only their starting five contributed to the scoring. Bryant was led by Martin with 14 but had eight players pitch in. Kevin Hunt had 8 points despite foul trouble. He fouled out in the final minute of the contest. Calvin Allen, Lowell Washington and Walker each had 6 points.
Bryant’s second quarter rally began when Hunt made a steal and a dunk to start the period. Allen took a charge on a drive by Beckner and, moments later, Washington scored despite the presence of Smith.
A reverse layup by Smith was countered by Washington who popped a 15-footer. Van Buren’s Caleb Salisbury was fouled on a 3-point try and converted all three shots.
Martin followed his own miss and, after Smith scored on an alley-oop dunk, Allen drilled a 3 to make it 20-14. Smith got to the line when he was fouled on a lob inside. He converted twice. Moments later, Smith made a move to the basket and Bryant’s Kyle Sahr came blocked his shot. Allen stole the ball after Van Buren had secured the rebound. Though he missed the layup, Sahr was there to stick it back in.
Bryant trailed 23-16 at the half.
Martin and Hunt hit 3’s on either side of a triple by Jordan Barlow for the Pointers. Salisbury scored on a goal-tending call and the Pointers pushed the lead out to 31-22 with 4:13 left in the third quarter.
Martin and Walker knocked down back-to-back 3’s. Barlow scored inside but Martin fed Braylon Steen who cut the lead to 33-30 with 2:25 left. Moments later, Van Buren appeared to lose possession out of bounds but the ball was awarded to the Pointers.
But, after a timeout, the Hornets kept coming. Smith missed and, at the other end, Washington got one in over him to cut the margin to 1. Dye hit two free throws only to have Martin trump that with a triple that tied the game 35-35.
Allen followed up with a steal that led to an offensive-rebound bucket for Steen and Bryant’s first lead since 2-0. Beau Beckner scored off a feed from Dye and it was tied at 37 going into the fourth quarter.
Allen fed Marvin Moody for a basket inside that put the Hornets back on top. Beckner cut a point off the lead with a free throw then Dye put the Pointers back on top with a 15-footer. But Allen found Walker for a deep 3 beyond the top of the key and the Hornets regained the upper hand.
Bryant had a couple of chances to extend the advantage but Dye collected a long rebound and raced to the other end for a layup that knotted it at 42.
The Hornets set up a play out of a timeout and got a good look but the jump hook by Steen refused to fall. At the other end, Smith got his first basket of the second half to put his team back on top.
Martin, however, gunned in his fourth triple of the game to give Bryant a 45-44 edge with 2:32 left. Beckner answered then the teams traded turnovers before Smith turned in a 3-point play that gave his team a 49-45 lead with :52 left.
A 3 by Hunt cut it to 1 and Bryant got a timeout with :23.1 on the clock. When play resumed, Barlow was fouled and, though he missed the first of the one-and-one, it came out long back to him. With :15.2 remaining, Salisbury was sent to the line where he converted both shots to make it a 3-point lead.
The Hornets worked the ball, trying to get a good open look from 3-point range before Abrahamson called the timeout with :01.9 left to set up the final shot.
Both teams are now 17-6 overall and 4-1 in league games against 7A foes. By virtue of winning by 3 to Bryant winning by 1 in their head-to-head match-ups, Van Buren now has the inside track for the top seed from the league to the Class 7A State Tournament.
The Pointers are now 8-2 in the conference overall. Bryant is 7-3 going into a home game against 6A league member Russellville on Tuesday.
POINTERS 51, HORNETS 48
Score by quarters
BRYANT 3 13 21 11 — 48
Van Buren 13 10 14 14 — 51
HORNETS (17-6, 7-3, 4-1) 48
Allen 2-8 1-4 6, Hunt 3-8 0-0 8, Martin 5-15 0-0 14, Steen 2-5 0-0 4, Washington 3-5 0-0 6, Moody 1-1 0-0 2, Sahr 1-1 0-0 2, Cowart 0-0 0-0 0, Walker 2-4 0-0 6. Totals 19-47 (40%) 1-4 (25%) 48.
POINTERS (17-6, 8-2, 4-1) 51
Dye 3-7 6-10 12, Salisbury 1-6 5-5 7, Barlow 2-3 0-1 5, Beckner 5-5 2-4 12, Smith 6-9 3-3 15, Wornkey 0-0 0-0 0, Davidson 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 17-31 (55%) 16-23 (70%) 51.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 9-23 (Martin 4-11, Hunt 2-4, Walker 2-4, Allen 1-3, Washington 0-1), Van Buren 1-8 (Barlow 1-2, Salisbury 0-4, Dye 0-1, Davidson 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 9, Van Buren 12. Rebounds: Bryant 5-13 18 (Washington 0-4 4, Allen 1-3 4, Steen 1-2 3, Sahr 1-1 2, Hunt 0-1 1, Martin 1-0 1, Moody 0-1 1, Walker 0-1 1, team 1-0 1), Van Buren 4-24 28 (Smith 0-13 13, Dye 0-6 6, Beckner 1-3 4, Salisbury 0-1 1, Barlow 1-0 1, Davidson 1-0 1, team 1-1 2). Team fouls: Bryant 15, Van Buren 7. Fouled out: Bryant, Hunt.