Photo by Tommy Land| Photo by Tommy Land
Nick Smith Jr. was projected by one scouting company as the No. The Bryant student section was not interested in Nick Smith Jr. being the No. 3 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.
It only took a few minutes for the large contingent Bryant students to shower the North Little Rock star player and Arkansas signees with the ol’ OVERRATED chant. When the opposing student section hits your face with that, you know you’ve arrived. The Bryant section was stuffed with players from the school’s four-time state champion football team. A few people started a loud conversation about Smith at the end of the first half. Smith obliged, after flying out and scooting closer to the railing, where some were leaning.
It was mostly good, clean rousing, and the emotion helped Bryant, which had not lost a conference contest entering the contest, to stay in striking distance until quarter four, when the Charging wildcats pulled away for the win of 73-65.
Johnny Rices’ juggernaut of an club was again taught a lesson by this incident. It was No. 12 in the latest SBLive/Sports Illustrated national rankings, as well as No. 1 in the SBLive Arkansas rankings. North Little Rock appears poised to win the remainder of the season with Smith, Kelel Ware (a McDonalds All-American from Oregon), and Corey Washington (who seems to have significantly improved his recruiting stock),
But nights like Tuesday remind them that they aren’t invincible and that the 6A Central road can be hard.
Johnny Rice, NLR coach, stated that we didn’t play the best game. I thought we were very bad in the first half and we were very selfish in that half. This was what we discussed at halftime. I believe we outworked the other team, especially in the paint, during the second half. We discussed what it takes to travel on the road, including defense, rebounding, sharing the basketball and making the right plays.
The first half was a complete failure. The second half was a success. We know that we will give everyone our best shot. That was what we needed. It wasn’t fun, but it was exactly what we needed to get through the tough times. It was a hard battle on the road. [Bryant]He was all jacked up and making shots.
Ware said that the message was crystal clear at halftime.
Ware said that everyone had an off-game tonight, but not because of the crowd. It was a mystery to me, but it was a team effort.
But [Rice]We had a brief talk at halftime. In the second half, we came out and played harder and better defense.
Rice and Co. saw how real the bullseye was on their chests when Arkansas No. Jonesboro, the No. 2 team beat Rice and Co. easily at a tournament on their own court. NLR bounced nicely with a strong showing at a Florida national tournament. They also won the King Cotton Classic in Pine Bluff the following week.
If the student section did not affect North Little Rock as Ware claims, Bryant might have had the spark it needed in the third quarter to tie the score after falling behind. Bryant would still be within striking distance of the end of the fourth quarter. Many pundits would have picked this match because of Bryant’s talent and its newer arena.
Rice stated that Rice believes this is the best crowd Rice has ever played against in the past two years.
Bryant coach Mike Abrahamson was proud to see his team’s efforts in making NLR uncomfortable.
He said that the guys were really competitive. Their efforts are admirable. We were most hurt by rebounding. We were outrebounded 12 times. North Little Rock scores 16 offensive rebounds. It’s difficult to win when the opponent gets two or three chances like that. It is difficult to deal with their size, length, and aggressive pursuit of ball.
Washington really did us in the second half. He works so hard to keep the glass from falling. This game is a great opportunity to learn a lot. Although our guys were hard workers, we must play better if they are to be beaten down in the future.
The Charging wildcats proved that they will not get upset when the chips go down. This was a good thing for Rice. When the crowd gets louder, even great teams can make uncharacteristic errors and things start to snowball.
That didn’t happen Tuesday night. As Bryants’ pendulum swung in their favor, Smith could be seen calmly rallying his troops inside the huddle. Despite playing well, the Hornets couldn’t put together a run that would have pushed them up by four to six points. It would have been fascinating to see how NLR responded. It’s difficult to do that with the Charging Wildcats because they have so many tools. Washington responded when things got tough in halftime and scored 10 points. He also asserted himself on boards, Abrahamson mentioned, with a few key stick-backs to ease the pressure in quarter four.
Washington stated that we did the right things and that I discovered some of the things that we didn’t do well in the first part and tried to bring them to the second to help us get going. As we attempt to make a run at the state championship, it will help us to figure these things out and deal with any adversity.
It’s easy to get lost when you have two McDonalds All-Americans on your team. But Washington once again proved that he is a Power 5 prospect. Some schools are starting to notice that Washington is 6-6 and a jack–of-all-trades. He can rebound (as he did last evening) and finish the game on the break as well. He is also a good defense player, which you don’t always see with blue chip players.
Washington stated that it is just great to go out and do things that other people cannot. I do what I like.
The The Charging Wildcats did a little better, even though they didn’t play well last night. If they are again challenged this season, which is a big possibility, they will still have Bryant game experience to draw on.