Leader sports editor
Sure it’s all about winning your conference, but don’t think these holiday invitational tournaments are meaningless.
Paragould’s 58-53 victory over Cabot in the Central Arkansas Christian Invitational championship on Saturday seemed to matter a great deal to Paragould.
“I took over the program last year; I don’t know the last time they won a tournament,” said Paragould coach Jay Robertson, who joined his players for photos and a celebration on the court. “It’s been a long, long time. We started off with West Memphis and played Marion twice, bigger classification schools, and I think it prepared us well for this tournament.”
Judging by the long faces, the loss meant something to Cabot too.
“We got better this week. That’s the main thing,” coach Jerry Bridges said. “I’ve got to forget about this one tonight. It stings, but we did get better this week.”
Cabot forced the final tie of the hard-fought game when Darin Jones hit a bank shot to make it 48-48 with 5:10 left. Chase Simpson fouled Jones on the play but Jones missed the free throw, and Paragould took the lead it never lost again when Koy Garmrath got a rebound and putback to make it 50-48 with 2:56 left.
Cabot was within 52-50 after free throws by Kai Davis with 1:13 left, but Chance Sugg made a wide-open layup off a fullcourt pass for Paragould for the 54-50 lead.
“Then we were down two and we let them get the home run on us when we’re not supposed to be playing where they can get the home run,” Bridges said. “Those are little things and it’s our job as coaches, we’ve got to get better at that and we will. We’ll work on it.”
Cabot’s Ryan Stafford made a three-pointer that cut it to 56-53 with nine seconds left, but Cabot had to foul for a chance to get the ball back and Sugg made both of his free throws with 7.6 seconds left for the final margin.
There were just three ties and Cabot never led after the opening seconds, but the Panthers stayed within 10 the entire game and were within 40-38 at the end of the third quarter after Paragould led 31-22 at halftime.
“It was just one of those grind it out games,” Robertson said. “Whoever made a play, made a shot, was going to win this game and luckily we made a couple more shots than they did.”
It helped Paragould that Clayton Vaught, Davis, Jones and Stafford all were playing with foul trouble and Vaught and Jones fouled out.
“When Darin fouled out that really hurt us,” Bridges said of Jones, who scored 17 points. “Because he was sort of taking over the game for us I thought.”
Davis led Cabot with 20 points while Sugg scored 22 for Paragould, Simpson had 13 and Garmrath scored 12.
Robertson said Paragould took advantage of the fouls by attacking the inside against the vulnerable post players.
“When they got in foul trouble, we looked at going to the inside against them,” Robertson said. “We were trying to get them out of there and help us out a little bit.”
Bridges agreed Cabot was facing a version of itself in Paragould, which was similar in size and hustling defense.
“We’re both very similar,” he said. “We’re not going to beat teams playing a half of ball and I thought the first half our defensive intensity wasn’t what it needed to be.
“You’ve got to give them credit, they had the late game last night and drove back to Paragould, got back at 1:30. You’ve got to give them credit; they did a good job.”
Cabot 60, MSM 35
The Lady Panthers outscored the Belles 17-2 on their way to the girls consolation championship.
Cabot outscored Mt. St. Mary’s in every quarter while Kaki Thomas led the way with 18 points. Hilary Russell added eight points while Emily Sprick led the Belles with 12.