Tuesday, November 26, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Turnovers doom Panthers in opener

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers made a valiant come back from a nine-point deficit and force overtime, but missed too many free throws and committed too many turnovers in losing the season opener to Conway 57-51 at Panther Arena.

Both teams are still playing without a few key players who are still competing in the class 7A football semifinals. Cabot is missing one guard that’s still with the football team. It just got another guard back from an injury, and he fouled out. The end result was two quick steals late in the second overtime that helped the Wampus Cats to finally pull away for a 57-51 win.

“We’re shallow at the guard position and we can’t afford to commit silly fouls,” Cabot coach Jerry Bridges said. “And we’ve got to stop going 1 for 2 at the free-throw line. When we have a chance to get a lead and put a game away, we have to step up there and hit two. It’s just frustrating. We could’ve won this game.”

Three Conway players fouled out, including both starting post players, but it was the Wampus Cat guard play that led to Cabot’s undoing.

Trent Walden scored 12 of his 20 points in the second overtime, hitting all three shot attempts and going 6 of 7 at the free-throw line.

After being tied at 41 at the end of the first overtime, Conway raced out to a 51-44 lead with 1:41 left in the second overtime. Cabot’s Michael Smith then made two free throws to make it a five-point game. After a miss on Cabot’s end, Conway got the rebound, but Smith knocked it away. Walden picked it up and lost it to Cabot’s Jeremiah Penner, who banked in a 22-foot three pointer from the top of the key to make it a two-point ball game with 1:27 left.

Walden and Smith traded two more points apiece to leave it 53-51 with 52 seconds on the clock. Walden was fouled and hit two free throws with 28 seconds remaining, then got a steal and a layup with 13 seconds left to set the final margin.

“We just have to play better than that,” Bridges said. “I thought we did some things well. We had some young guys that stepped in and played well for us. I thought we were going to be able to score the basketball a lot better than we did. But we sure didn’t do that tonight, especially in the first half.”

The first quarter was an event to forget. Both teams finished with more turnovers and fouls than points as the Wampus Cats took a 4-3 lead into the second period.

Both teams struggled to even get shots. Cabot took just five in the period while Conway shot it six times.

The pace began to quicken in the second quarter, but points were still hard to come by for both teams, at least for a time. Conway turned on the full-court pressure and Cabot committed eight turnovers.

Cabot scored first in the second half, but Conway answered with six-straight points to take a 23-14 lead with 5:25 left in the third quarter, but that was the last point the Wampus Cats would score in the frame.

Cabot didn’t come back in a whirlwind, only trimming the margin to 23-20 by quarter’s end, but didn’t fall apart in the face of a growing deficit.

Tyler Hill entered the game for the first time with 28 seconds left in the quarter to play defense on the last possession, and did his job well. Hill came up with a steal as Jones penetrated, then dished to Southerland who hit a running jumper from 15 feet to pull the Panthers to within three.

Conway scored first in the fourth and maintained its five-point lead until 5:22 left in the game. That was the beginning of another Conway scoring drought, as Cabot forced five-straight turnovers to climb back into a tie at 29.

The Wampus Cats turned it over again and York hit one of two free throws to give the Panthers their first lead of the game. After another Conway time-out, the Cats again turned it over without a shot, and again York was fouled driving up the court.

He made the first foul shot and missed the second, but Michael Smith got the rebound. York missed from 17 feet and Rowe missed a putback. Sophomore Hunter Southerland then got another offensive board and put it back for a 33-29 Cabot lead with 2:10 left.

Cabot made just 14 of 45 shot attempts and was 21 of 37 from the foul line. York led the Panthers with 14 points while Smith added nine. Southerland scored seven points and had a game-high 10 rebounds. Penner and Rowe also scored seven points. Walden’s 20 led Conway while Ellis added 13.