Saturday, November 26, 2011

SPORTS>>Lion legs wear out against Panthers

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Panthers did not get the memo that they were supposed to be lousy rebounders.

Senior Justin McMahan led the way with 13 points and eight rebounds while classmate Sam Howe pulled down another six boards as the Panthers outlasted a stubborn Searcy team 50-39 on Tuesday in what most likely was the final varsity basketball game to be played in Panther Pavilion, the old gym that served the school for nearly 50 years.

The Lions (1-2) did a commendable job of hiding their football legs for the better part of three quarters before Cabot’s quickness and overall deeper bench got the best of them. Senior guard and starting football quarterback Dezmond Stegall led the way for the Lions with 12 points while another football player Cam Woodruff, added 10 points along with Jonathan Powell.

But it was the rebounding statistics that told the story for Cabot.

The Panthers limited Powell, Searcy’s 6-8 post player and by far the largest player on the court, to just three rebounds while Stegall led the way for the Lions on the boards with seven.

“We stress it so much that maybe it sinks in,” Cabot coach Jerry Bridges said. “Because before the game, that’s all we talked about was rebound, rebound, rebound. I thought they did a great job of everybody checking their man off the boards and going to the boards. That’s something we have to continue working hard on every day in practice.”

Stegall, Woodruff and sub Antwan Arnold were four days removed from the football field after Searcy’s second-round loss to Pine Bluff in the quarterfinals of the 6A state playoffs.

They started their basketball season the day before with a victory over Vilonia, but their legs could not hold out a final eight minutes against Cabot’s fleet group, led by speedy senior J.D. Brunett.

“You’ve got to give them credit,” Bridges said. “I mean, they’ve had one day of practice going from football to basketball. Fourth quarter, we finally just wore them down. The shots were short, and they started missing shots. We were hoping we would wear them down sooner, but we didn’t.”

Brunett did a little bit of everything for the Panthers, including seven points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals. And many of those feats came at key times for Cabot, with the Lions continually threatening to make it a close one until the final few minutes.

“He’s quick,” Bridges said. “J.D. is a wonderful kid, and just gives you everything. And boy, if he’s knocking down shots, he’s that much tougher. But he’s everywhere – he’s like a water bug out there.”

The Panthers maintained a short margin for most of the first half before things got sticky in the third quarter with repeated comebacks by Searcy.

Powell tied the game at 28 with an inside basket at the 6:07 mark, then gave the Lions their only lead with an assist from Stegall a minute later to make it 30-28 Searcy.

Howe answered for Cabot with an assist from Brunett to tie it once again, and senior Arthur West handed the lead back to the Panthers on a three-point basket with 3:48 left to play in the third.

The tradeoff continued until the tie increased to 35-35 when Howe put up a pair of free throws and Adam Rock knocked down a three-point shot to give Cabot a 40-35 lead.

But Searcy got the final word before the end of the frame with a basket and free throw by Woodruff that made it 30-28.

McMahan took over inside late and put the Panthers up 46-39 with a inside jumper off the glass with 4:22 left to play, which allowed Cabot to spread its offense and run off much of the remaining clock.

The Lions will be one of the teams on hand when Cabot opens the doors to its new gymnasium with an invitational tournament beginning Dec. 5.

“I’m telling you, if we play them in a couple of weeks in our tournament, it will be a tough game,” Bridges said. “It will go to the wire this time, because they’ll be in a little bit better basketball shape. Stegall’s just a good athlete. I think we’re a little deeper, but once you get them in shape, you can play seven or eight and be okay.”