Friday, February 08, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot boys turn around in last half

Leader sportswriter

It took one of the best halves of play all season for Cabot to hold off Marion in a 45-39 upset victory at Panther Arena on Tuesday to boost its viability in the 7A/6A East Conference standings.

The Panthers (7-13, 3-7) shot a stellar 75 percent from the floor in the third quarter at 9 of 12, including a perfect 2 of 2 from three-point range. It totaled to 68 percent (13 of 19) in the second half, and 58 percent for the game at 19 of 33. Turnovers also played in Cabot’s favor as the Panthers gave the ball away only once in the second half while forcing nine from Marion in that time. The turnover ratio in the first half was the exact opposite with seven Cabot turnovers to Marion’s one.

Senior forward Ryan Stafford led the way for the Panthers with 14 points, including 10 points in the decisive third quarter, six of which came in the final 1:47 of the period.

“We did score a few points in the second half for once,” Panthers coach Jerry Bridges said. “I don’t know what attributed to that, I know at halftime I wasn’t very happy. I didn’t think we were playing tough. I’m not going to say we weren’t playing hard, we weren’t playing tough enough. We sort of challenged them at halftime, and they really responded well.

“We were aggressive with the ball, and that’s something we’ve been trying to stress all year. It was a good team effort, and I thought all of our seniors stepped up and did a great job tonight.”

The Patriots (14-5, 7-3) got a few more looks than their host, but could manage only 40 percent from the floor (16 of 40). Cabot’s good ball control in the second half also meant fewer opportunities for Marion, which shot 7 of 15 in the second half, including 3 of 7 in the final eight minutes.

It wasn’t the biggest home crowd seen all season for Cabot, but the members of Panther Nation who were on hand made noise like a crowd much larger. It was an energy that was noticeably picked up on by the players late in the third quarter and early fourth quarter as the Panthers went from a 26-22 deficit at the 3:10 mark of the third to a 39-35 lead with 5:11 remaining. The victory also helped ease the painful memory of a brutal 67-32 bashing from North Little Rock the previous Friday.

“I’m just glad our fans still support these kids,” Bridges said. “Friday was tough, I’m not going to lie to you. When you take one like that, it affects your mojo. We’ve got a good community here that supports our kids. Our kids are going to play hard, and I just thought we stepped up our defensive intensity a little, and just started playing tougher.”

Jake Ferguson pulled the Panthers to within a point when he hit a three-point basket with 3:02 remaining in the third to make it 26-25. Dequarius Brigham hit the front end of a two-shot foul on the other end for Marion before Stafford got busy in the paint for Cabot. Stafford tied the game at 27 with a putback, and answered two more Marion baskets with inside jumpers to pull even again, 31-31 with 37 seconds left to play in the third. The Panthers had not led since the opening five minutes until Ferguson came away with a steal as the third quarter was winding down, and found senior Kyle Thielemier for a layup just before the buzzer to give Cabot a 33-31 lead heading into the fourth.

“At this level, you’ve got to play tough,” Bridges said. “You may not shoot great each and every night, but there’s no excuse for not going out there and being tough and playing hard. I think our guys did that tonight.”

Thielemier and senior forward Clayton Vaught each added 10 points for the Panthers while point guard Bryan Shrum had five points and five steals. For Marion, Darian Barnes led all scorers with 16 points.

Cabot traveled to Mountain Home last night.