By Rob Patrick
PEARCY — The play didn’t unfold quite like it was planned. There was just a tiny window for Bryant freshman Aaron Bell to get the pass in to Leon Neale. He tried it and placed it perfectly. But Neale still had to make a great catch with a defender inhibiting his vision. He was about six feet down the right baseline and he had to stop his momentum toward the outside, pivot and square up without traveling or taking a dribble, and shoot a jumper with just the right touch.
And he did it.
With :01.5 on the clock, Neale’s soft jumper nestled into the net snapping a 33-33 tie.
Lake Hamilton got a timeout but the subsequent long inbounds pass was picked off by Bell and the Hornets had survived a scare with a 35-33 win.
It was their fourth in a row and fifth in six games coming down the stretch in the South Division of the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference. At 15-5 overall and 8-3 in league play, the Hornets stand in third place but just a game behind the rival Benton Panthers for second behind unbeaten North Little Rock.
Incidentally, the Hornets travel to North Little Rock on Monday, Feb. 1, before playing their final home game against Cabot South on Thursday, Feb. 4, then finishing up the season in what may be a crucial showdown at Benton on Monday, Feb. 8.
The CAJHC post-season tournament will follow starting Feb. 13, at Sheridan.
“That was supposed to be the same play that UAB ran for a dunk to beat Arkansas,” revealed Hornets coach Steve Wilson referring to the game-winning basket. “We didn’t run it quite as smooth but we got the needed result.
“I’m real proud of the kids,” he added. “They played smart. When we didn’t have anything, we had timeouts in our pocket and we used them. So we didn’t force anything.
“It’s always tough to win in this conference on the road and, you know, mentally this makes us stronger,” Wilson asserted. “It doesn’t get any easier when you’ve got the conference leaders coming up.”
The Hornets had some things go their way down the stretch after the Wolves erased a 9-point second-half deficit.
Missed free throws haunted Lake Hamilton. In the final quarter, they converted just 3 of 9 from the line, often when they had a chance to take a lead.
Bryant led 32-30 with 2:54 left to play thanks to a tie-breaking bucket by Zach Cambron. But, with 2:11 left, Lake Hamilton’s Gavin De Los Santos was fouled as he launched and missed a 3-pointer. But he could only navigate one of his three freebies through the hoop and Bryant still led with the ball.
With 2:06 left, Bell, who led his team with 9 points, was fouled. He converted once to make it a 2-point game.
At the other end, De Los Santos got an open look from 3-point range again and, through he missed it once more, he was fouled again.
This time, he made two of the three shots to tie it up again at 33.
After a Bryant miss, the Wolves got another chance at the line but the front end of the bonus was missed. De Los Santos rebounded but couldn’t get the follow to go and Neale pulled down the rebound for Bryant.
But the Hornets turned the ball over with :54 left. Lake Hamilton worked the clock down and, with :29 showing, Roger White, who led the team with 11 points, was fouled following his own miss.
But he couldn’t get either of his free throws to fall and Bryant was able to work for a final shot, whittling the clock down to :07.3 before Lake Hamilton knocked the ball out of bounds and took a timeout.
Bell, who had been almost unstoppable on the dribble drive during the game, tried to maneuver for another one once play resumed. But he was double-teamed and it appeared that when he went up for a shot, White capped the ball. Bell came down with the ball and the official behind the play ruled that he’d walked on an up-and-down and the Wolves had a chance for a game-winning shot.
After a timeout with :03.4 showing, the Wolves tried to inbound the ball with a long pass into the front court only to have it sail out of bounds without being touched. So the Hornets gained possession and instead of it being where the ball went out, since no one had touched it, they got it under their own basket.
Wilson called timeout to set up the play that provided the game-winner.
“We didn’t panic,” Wilson noted. “We got a break there and we capitalized on it.”
The Hornets had the upper hand throughout the first half, jumping out to an 8-0 lead. Bell hit a pair of baskets, taking it to the rack on either side of a pair of free throws by Jalen Hewitt. After Scott Workman blocked a shot by Lake Hamilton’s Cody Smith, Hewitt got free for a layup to complete the run and force a Wolves timeout.
De Los Santos got his team on the board with 1:56 left in the period but a steal by Marcus Wilson led to a trip to the line for Strodney Davis with no time showing on the clock. Davis converted his second shot to make it 9-2.
Sparked by White, who scored his team’s next 7 points, the Wolves pulled within 4 on a couple of occasions. When it was 15-11, Workman came through with a three-point play off a nice feed from Wilson and, before the quarter was finished, Wilson made another steal and drove for a layup to make it 20-11 at the half.
Lake Hamilton deployed in a 1-3-1 zone trap in the half court in the second half and it helped them battle back. The Wolves cut it to22-19 but Neale hit a pair of free throws then Cambron forced a held ball to get the ball back for Bryant. Wilson, taking a sparkling feed from Riley Hall, scored inside to make it 26-19 going into the last two minutes of the period.
De Los Santos hit a free throw then Wilson hit two and Bryant held an 8-point bulge.
The Wolves, however, scored the next 10 points to claim their only lead of the game 30-28 with 5:01 left in the contest.
Bell answered in the clutch with a driving jumper to knot it at 30. Neale made a steal but had his shot blocked. Another turnover by the Wolves ensued leading to Cambron’s go-ahead basket and the dramatic finish.
It was the third time this season the Hornets have beaten Lake Hamilton.
HORNETS 35, WOLVES 33
Score by quarters
BRYANT 9 11 8 7 — 35
Lake Hamilton 2 9 17 5 — 33
Rayburn 0-1 0-0 0, Bell 4-6 1-2 9, Hewitt 1-2 2-2 4, J.Davis 0-0 0-0 0, Workman 2-3 1-3 5, Wilson 2-5 2-2 6, S.Davis 0-3 1-2 1, R.Hall 0-2 0-0 0, Neale 2-4 2-2 6, Cambron 1-3 2-2 4. Total 12-29 11-15 35.
Smith 2-10 0-0 4, A.Hall 0-1 0-0 0, Watkins 2-2 0-0 4, De Los Santos 2-10 4-8 9, Childs0-1 0-0 0, Jessie 1-2 0-0 2, White 5-7 1-4 11, Turner 1-1 0-0 3, Teague 0-0 0-0 0, Klatt 0-0 0-1 0. Total 13-34 5-13 33.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 0-4 (Hall 0-2, Wilson 0-1, Bell 0-1), Lake Hamilton 2-6 (De Los Santos 1-2, Turner 1-1, Smith 0-3), Turnovers: Bryant 16, Lake Hamilton 18. Rebounds: Bryant 17 (Workman 4, J.Davis 3), Lake Hamilton 26 (White 6). Team fouls: Bryant 11, Lake Hamilton 12.