After treading water or struggling below the surface, the Cabot Panthers are suddenly making waves.
The Panthers beat the Bryant Hornets 58-49 in a 7A-Central Conference game at Cabot on Friday, surviving a poor-shooting night at the free-throw line to break above .500.
“I told them I could take off the SCUBA gear,” Cabot coach Jerry Bridges said of his team’s improvement to 9-8.
More importantly, Cabot moved to 3-1 in the conference. It was also pointed out to Bridges that entering the night the Panthers were second in the 7A power rankings, which will help determine state tournament seeding at the end of the year.
But Bridges dismissed the rankings, introduced this year, and said the best way to get a high seed was to keep posting victories like the Panthers did Friday.
“I’m not smart enough to figure it,” Bridges said. “I just figure the more wins we get we’ll get in position to get to that state tournament.”
Cabot outscored Bryant 22-16 in the first quarter and led the entire second half but Bryant pulled within 32-28 when Brantley Cozart made a layup with 6:58 left in the third quarter. However Cabot was in the midst of an 18-3 run spanning the second and third quarters and built its lead to 43-29.
Bryant then posted a 10-0 run and the Hornets cut it to 43-39 when Cozart made two free throws with 4:50 in the game. Then Cabot’s J.D. Brunett drove the baseline and made a reverse layup that stretched the lead to 45-39 with 4:41 left in the game.
Cabot consistently blew opportunities to strengthen its lead in the final period, going 9 for 18 on free throws in the fourth quarter and 5 for 10 in the last minute. Cabot was 19 of 28 overall from the free-throw line.
“If we’d have made our free throws we could have breathed a little more easier at the end,” Bridges said. “But we came out in the third quarter and went through a stretch where we played good defense and worked the ball offensively and made shots and I just thought that run to start the thirdput us in good position.”
The Panthers scraped together just enough points and had enough rebounds and defensive stops to hold on down the stretch. It was 51-46 after Cozart’s steal and layup with 1:29 to go but Cabot’s Kai Davis made two free throws when he drew Quinten Motto’s third foul with 1:04 left.
Darin Jones missed both free throws when Motto committed his fourth foul, which was ruled intentional, with 47.8 seconds to go. But Brunett made two free throws after 34 fouled out with 44.3 seconds remaining and he hit two more to close out the scoring and offset Jordan Griffin’s three-pointer from the right wing.
“I felt comfortable with 17 seconds left,” Bridges said.
The loss dropped Bryant to 4-13, 0-4.
“We’re still trying to play four full quarters of good basketball,” said coach Mike Abrahamson of his young team that lost all five starters and its top two bench players from last year.
“Every game, including this one, we get some really good things going and we look really good at times and at times we still look really bad like an inexperienced, young team.”
Brunett scored 18 points for Cabot, Davis scored 17 and Jones scored 12.
“I think what we do good is we execute well,” Bridges said of Cabot’s 22-point start.
“That was one of our better quarters we had this year. I didn’t think we could sustain that for four quarters but we came out good in the third.”
Cozart scored 22 to lead Bryant and Griffin scored 13.