Photo courtesy of Anna Simpson
The basketball fans at Hornet Arena on Tuesday night were treated to a Christmas gift of a game as the Bryant Hornets and the Watson Chapel Wildcats battled nip-and-tuck before a 14-4 push allowed the Hornets to gain the upper hand on the way to a well-earned 61-47 victory.
On a night in which he was celebrated for surpassing 1,000 points in his Bryant High School career, Camren Hunter scored 13 of his game-high 20 points in the fourth quarter capped off by a steal and dunk with 1:30 left that had his team ahead 57-43.
The win improved the Hornets to 7-0 this season going into a break for Christmas. They’ll be back in action on Monday, Dec. 28, at 3 p.m., against highly regarded Marion team.
Hunter finished with 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Sophomore point guard Cory Nichols, making his first varsity start, added 11 points. Kade Ruffner and Gabe George each had 8.
The Hornets forced 22 turnovers, a few on charges with Aiden Adams taking three of them.
“Watson Chapel is a tough team to play against,” said Hornets head coach Mike Abrahamson. “They’re so athletic and long. And they get into the lane so well with their post play but also with their guards driving it and the sets they run. They play good defense.
“They’re going to be good,” he added. “I’ve got a lot of respect for Coach (Marcus) Adams and the way they do things. Every time I see them, they’re better and better.
“It was a good test for us,” said the coach. “It’s always good to play against a team like that because that’s how our league’s going to be, long, athletic and aggressive and physical.”
Along with the second half run that put the Hornets in position to win, the key to the game may have been when Hunter picked up his second foul with 3:41 left in the first half. Chapel had led much of the way up to that point. The Wildcats held a 22-20 edge at that point.
But with their senior leader on the bench, the Hornets not only held their own, they surged into the lead.
Ruffner hit a 3 to give Bryant a 23-22 lead and, after Chapel’s Thurman Shaw hit two free throws, George buried a 3-pointer to put the Hornets back on top. He followed with a basket off an inbounds play and it was 28-24.
Free throws by Christopher Fountain and 6’7” junior Antwon Emsweller trimmed the margin to 28-27 at the half.
The contest was tied at 28, 30, 32, 34 and then at 37 with 1:11 left in the third quarter. Off a feed from Adams, George nailed a triple. Nichols followed with a steal and a drive to the other end where he was fouled on his shot and awarded the basket via goaltending.
That three-point play had Bryant up 43-37. Khamani Cooper beat the buzzer with a shot to make it a 4-point game going into the final period.
That’s when Hunter took over, scoring Bryant’s next 10 points. He started the scoring in the quarter with a pair of free throws. A pull-up jumper from 15 feet splashed and, moments later, he followed up his own miss and scored, giving the Hornets their first double-digit lead of the game, 49-39.
Hunter and Chapel’s Kamron Wilkins traded free throws. A steal by Hunter was negated when he was cited for a charge, his fourth foul. Fountain hit a jumper in the lane to make it 51-43.
But Hunter’s driving jumper got the Hornets back on track. Ruffner and Hunter added free throws before his steal and dunk.
Cooper hit a jumper in the lane to keep his team alive but when Nichols drove to the rack resulting in a three-point play, the Bryant lead was its largest at 60-45.
Emsweller scored and was fouled with :33 left. He missed his free throw but clamored after the carom and tried to go right back at the rim, only to run over Adams for a charge that was Emsweller’s fifth foul.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well early and they made some shots that I haven’t seen them make a lot,” said Abrahamson, regarding Chapel’s early success which had the Wildcats leading 22-16 midway through the second quarter. “So, we just tried to trust the process and stick to what we do and not panic or let it get away from us.
“We got a little better as the game went on,” he related. “More disruptive on defense, which led to us getting to the free-throw line a little bit more; more shots in the lane and around the basket instead of settling for 3’s.
“Then Camren scored a few baskets and we had some guys step up and take some charges and get some rebounds,” the coach concluded.
HORNETS 61, WILDCATS 47
Score by quarters
Watson Chapel 15 12 12 8 — 47
BRYANT 12 16 15 18 — 61
Wilkins 3-12 2-3 9, Emsweller 5-8 2-4 12, Hall 0-3 4-6 4, Fountain 1-2 1-2 3, Cooper 6-13 0-2 13, Brown 0-2 0-1 0, Shaw 2-6 2-2 6. Totals 17-46 (37%) 11-20 (55%) 47.
Nichols 4-8 3-6 11, Ruffner 3-6 1-2 8, Hunter 8-14 3-5 20, Adams 0-4 4-5 4, Diggins 3-4 0-0 6, Brunson 0-0 0-0 0, George 3-7 0-0 8, Montgomery 1-3 0-0 2, Schroeder 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 23-47 (49%) 11-18 (61%) 61.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 4-15 (George 2-5, Hunter 1-6, Ruffner 1-3, Adams 0-2), Watson Chapel 2-12 (Wilkins 1-4, Cooper 1-3, Shaw 0-3, Fountain 0-1, Brown 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 13, Watson Chapel 22. Rebounds: Bryant 7-22 29 (Diggins 2-6 8, Hunter 1-6 7, Ruffner 1-4 5, Adams 1-1 2, Montgomery 1-1 2, Brunson 0-1 1, George 0-1 1, Schroeder 0-1 1, team 1-1 2), Watson Chapel 14-22 36 (Emsweller 4-5 9, Hall 3-4 7, Wilkins 2-3 5, Fountain 2-2 4, Shaw 0-3 3, Cooper 1-2 3, team 2-3 5). Team fouls: Bryant 22, Watson Chapel 20. Fouled out: Watson Chapel, Emsweller, Wilkins.