Just over a minute into the fourth quarter, the Bryant Hornets held a 19-point lead over the rival Conway Wampus Cats on Tuesday night at the Hornets Nest. Riding an unusually good start, the Hornets had gradually built that margin.
But Conway made a push as two of Bryant’s most experienced and best ball-handlers Kevin Hunt and Calvin Allen each went in rapid succession to the bench with four fouls.
With 2:43 left in the game, Conway had whittled the margin down to 8, 53-45. Allen and Hunt returned and, finally, with 2:39 showing, Allen stepped to the free-throw line and converted both ends of a one-and-one to end a drought of over four minutes.
At the other end, the Hornets dropped back into a zone defense, giving the Cats a different look, slowing them down and, for all intents, sapping their momentum.
The Hornets converted enough free throws down the stretch to come out with a 62-52 win over Conway, running their winning streak to eight games.
Bryant improved to 15-3 overall and 5-0 in the 7A/6A-Central Conference. More importantly, they finished a sweep through the first round of games against their three 7A conference foes. Only the games against those teams go towards qualifying and seeding for the Class 7A State Tournament.
“Right now we are (in a good position) but there’s really only one time that matters and that’s at the end,” commented Hornets coach Mike Abrahamson. “We just want to stay focused, try to stay in routine the best that we can, keep these guys going. We know we’ve got to play all (three teams) again. They’ll make adjustments. We’ll make adjustments and try to keep going strong.”
Romen Martin led the Hornets with 18 points including five 3-pointers. Braylon Steen came through with 15 points and a whopping 16 rebounds including 10 on the offensive glass. Allen, coming off a season-high 17 points at Russellville, added 14 points including 10 in the first half. The other four came in the clutch at the free-throw line during crunch time.
Conway was led by Kendarious Smith’s 18 points. Jamaal Clifton finished with 9 points and Junior Williams with 8.
“We knew they weren’t going to go away,” stated Abrahamson, regarding Conway’s fourth-quarter rally. “I knew they were going to come back. That’s the type of team that they have. That’s the way they’re coached. It’s a high-character team. I knew they were going to make that run at us. We tried to prepare our guys for it but, when it actually happens, mistakes can happen.
“We tried to handle their pressure and we didn’t do a great job there,” he added. “We got some shots blocked and some momentum plays for them. They got a dunk, this and that. So, we first tried to handle the pressure better and get layups or free throws then we also switched our defense up a little bit just to try to take them out of rhythm, basically. I think it worked a little bit. They spent a little bit more time on offense.
“Our guys were real aggressive to start the game, getting some offensive rebounds and just being real tough with the ball, finishing around the basket,” the coach noted. “It ended up, we really needed it to fall back on.”
Regarding Steen’s work on the boards, Abrahamson said, “He was snatching them out of the air, which he hasn’t done like that lately. The way he snatches it, it sounds like the ball is going to pop. That was good to see. He was very aggressive tonight, had a good mindset, scoring around the basket, being physical, going up and getting those rebounds. As a team, I thought we gave up too many offensive rebounds but (Braylon) did get some big ones. He was playing really hard as all our guys were.”
Steen started the scoring in the game with a three-point play off a sweet feed from Lowell Washington. After Williams hit a 3 for Conway, Washington grabbed the carom off a teammate’s miss and scored. Moments later, Allen made a steal and drove for a bucket to make it 7-3.
Williams drove for a basket in response but before the Cats could score again, it was 15-5. Allen hit a 3 then Hunt took a charge on defense. A stickback by Steen was followed by another Conway turnover. Hunt kicked out to Allen who drained another triple and the Cats needed a timeout.
Allen’s production early was key. Conway deployed in a 3-2 zone defense. Sometimes they’d work into a half-court trap but much of the time, especially early, they turned it into a triangle-and-two defense with Williams covering Martin man-to-man and Smith taking on Hunt man-to-man.
But Allen and Steen burned them enough that they had to abandon that strategy for the most part.
Travis Obannon drove for a layup when play resumed but Hunt answered with a drive to the rack that produced a three-point play. Bryant led 19-9 going into the second stanza.