Wednesday, December 18, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot boys outplay Rams

Leader sportswriter

The Panthers played perhaps their best overall game of the season in the semifinals of the third annual Cabot Pre-Holiday Tournament on Saturday, beating previously undefeated Paragould 51-41 at Panther Arena.

As was to be expected between the two evenly-matched teams, there was very little separation on the scoreboard after the first half of play. Cabot (4-1), who’s reeled off four wins in a row, jumped out to an early 10-4 lead at the start of the game, but Paragould (3-1) answered with an 8-0 run to lead 12-10 at the end of the first quarter.

Cabot sophomore Hunter Southerland made a free throw at the beginning of the second quarter to cut the Rams’ lead to one, and Nick Thomas hit a three-pointer at the5:33 mark of the quarter to give the Panthers a 14-12 lead.

Matt Paynter gave Paragould the lead again with 1:49 to play in the opening half on a basket inside the paint, which made the score 19-18. But the Panthers closed the first half with a 4-0 run to lead 23-19 at the break.

Cabot carried its momentum from the end of the first half into the second, as it opened the third quarter with a 10-4 run to push its lead to double digits with the score 33-23. By the end of the quarter, though, Paragould cut the Panther lead to seven, trailing 35-28.

Sophomore Garrett Rowe pushed Cabot’s lead back to 10 with a three-pointer at the start of the fourth and final period, but the Rams steadily chipped away at the host team’s lead. With two-and-a-half minutes to play, Paragould trimmed the deficit down to 43-39.

Two free throws by Hunter York gave Cabot a six-point cushion, but it was Thomas who made the most crucial plays for the Panthers down the stretch. In the last two minutes, Thomas made two game-changing steals, the second of which came with 1:34 remaining, and resulted in an and-one by Thomas at the other end that put Cabot up 48-39 with 1:31 to play.

“Man, I’ll tell you something,” said Cabot coach Jerry Bridges after the game. “Nick Thomas doesn’t show up in the stat sheets scoring 15, 20 points a game, but Nick Thomas is such an important part of our team because he keeps that extra pass going sometimes, and he keeps us rolling. And he can defend better than people think.

“I put Nick on their best player (Brandon Clifford), and I thought Nick did a good job on 20 (Clifford). Twenty had 22 (points) the other night. Nick accepted the challenge, and those steals were big; his and-one was real big. That sort of pushed that cushion, and then they become more one dimensional, offensively.

“It’s easier to defend one dimension, but I’m just proud of Nick because, like I said, you don’t read his name a lot in the papers, but we’re not 4-1 if he’s not on our team.”

The biggest differences between the two evenly-matched teams in the second half came down to free throws, three-pointers and turnovers.

Cabot finished the game 10 of 16 from the free-throw line for 63 percent, but made 7 of 12 three-pointers for a stellar 58 percent. The Panthers also cut down on their turnovers in the second half. They finished the game with 12, but committed just four in the final two quarters of play.

Conversely, Paragould committed 10 turnovers in the second half, and 19 for the game. The Rams made 8 of 15 free throws in the four quarters played for 53 percent, but went just 3 for 10 from the stripe in the second half (30 percent).

They were 2 for 3 from three-point range in the first half, but 1 for 6 the rest of the game for an overall percentage of 33.

The Panthers also outrebounded Paragould, but just barely, with the margin at 18-16.

York led the Panthers with 13 points. Southerland scored 10. Michael Smith had nine, all of which came in the second half. Thomas scored seven and had a game-high five steals, while Rowe scored all six of his points in the second half.

Chase Brittingham led the Rams with 13 points. Cabot’s Thomas held Clifford, who scored 22 points against Little Rock Catholic in the first round of the Pre-Holiday Tournament, to just four points.

Cabot played Benton, last year’s Pre-Holiday Tournament champions, in the 2013 championship game Monday night after deadlines. Look for details of the boys’ title game in Saturday’s edition of The Leader.