Tuesday, December 04, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Free throws help Bryant beat Falcons

Leader sports editor

Missed layups, a big rebounding deficit and an even bigger free-throw deficit was more than North Pulaski could overcome Monday in a 74-51 loss to Bryant at the Conway Invitational Tournament.

The Hornets outrebounded the Falcons 31-23, and North Pulaski made just 21 of 58 shot attempts. But the telling statistic was the free-throw disparity. Bryant hit 26 of 46 attempts from the line while the Falcons made just 7 of 14.

“I’m just going to leave that alone,” North Pulaski coach Roy Jackson said. The head Falcon took a diplomatic approach to being on the wrong side of the strange statistic. “We didn’t play well, that is true. We were being aggressive but weren’t being smart. They were being pretty aggressive too, but we were fouling. I don’t know; that’s about all I can think of to say about that.”

Bryant shot nearly as many free throws in the first quarter as North Pulaski shot in the game. The Hornets went 8 of 12 from the line in the opening frame, but the Falcons made 7 of 11 shots from the floor and held a 14-12 lead after the first quarter. Then came the turning point in the game.

Bryant (5-0) scored the first 20 points of the second quarter in just more than four minutes. The Hornets were in the double bonus with 6:47 left in the half and shot 14 more free throws in the second quarter. North Pulaski played its role in the collapse by turning the ball over seven times in the quarter, and going cold from the floor. North Pulaski made just four of 15 shot attempts in the second quarter. The Falcons missed their first seven shots of the frame, including two layups.

“That’s something we’ve struggled with a lot this season,” Jackson said. “We have to start doing a better job of finishing around the basket.”

Bryant’s lead grew to as much as 22 points in the second quarter, but North Pulaski (3-2) battled back to cut the margin to 39-26 by halftime. The Falcons continued to chip away early in the third quarter, getting the score to 41-31 and had three possessions to get it to less than 10 points, but never converted.

Bryant then went on another tear, led by senior guard C.J. Rainey. Rainey scored just three points in the first half, but dropped in 11 in the third quarter, including eight in a row after North Pulaski cut it to 10.

Rainey scored six points in a 20-second span that made it 47-31 and erased most of what North Pulaski spent a whole quarter trying to make up.

Rainey’s sudden burst sparked a 17-2 run that gave the Hornets a 58-33 lead and left little doubt about the outcome. North Pulaski fell behind by as much as 28 in the fourth quarter as Jackson cleared his bench, but the Falcons battled back with a small run at the end as Bryant also began to go deep into the lineup.

In the strange tournament format, Bryant and North Pulaski will face bye teams in the next round. North Pulaski faces tournament host Conway at 8:30 p.m. Thursday while Bryant will play Jacksonville at 5:30 p.m. Friday.

In the other tournament game, Pine Bluff beat Harrison on Tuesday, sending Pine Bluff to the winner’s bracket to play Conway on Friday, while Harrison falls to the losers’ bracket to play Jacksonville at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday.

Saturday’s championship game will pit the Conway-Pine Bluff winner against the Jacksonville-Bryant winner at 8:30 p.m.

The losers of those two games will play for third place at 5:30. North Pulaski will play Harrison for fifth place at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.