Friday, December 20, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers lose title to Benton

Leader sportswriter

The third annual Cabot Pre-Holiday Tournament final in the boys’ division was a battle of the Panthers, and it was a close battle up to the very end, but the class 6A Panthers from Benton made enough plays down the stretch to beat the host Panthers of Cabot 50-43 Monday at Panther Arena.

Neither team led by more than five points up till the finals seconds of the fourth quarter, and in a gamethat tight, the winner often emerges by doing the little things better than the losing team. That was the case in Monday’s title game, as Cabot struggled from the free-throw line, making just 6 of 17 shots from the stripe for a less than stellar 35 percent.

Cabot (4-2) had just two attempts from the line in the first half and missed them both. In the second half, when the host Panthers really needed to make their free shots, they made just 6 of 15. Conversely, Benton (4-3) made 5 of 6 shots from the stripe in the second half, and 7 of 10 in the four quarters played for 70 percent.

“Any time you shoot free throws 6 of 15, you’re not going to beat anybody,” said Cabot coach Jerry Bridges after the game. “We work on it and I preach to them about it, but I guess it’s not sinking in, so I guess we need someone else to come and preach to them.”

The intensity level was high for all four quarters, as neither team took a break from hustling while on the floor. However, when asked if fatigue could’ve played a role in the host team’s poor showing at the free-throw line, Bridges said his players are conditioned to withstand such high-energy levels.

“We’re in shape,” Bridges said. “If you see what we do to them in the fall, it wasn’t fatigue. We choked, but we’ll get better at that. We’ll get used to that situation, but we didn’t finish the game. You’ve got to give Benton credit. They had people hurt and they came in and outplayed us.”

Benton played Monday’s game without two of its key guards, but the visiting Panthers had plenty of other quality guards step in and play well in those two players’ absence.

Cabot went back and forth with Benton in the first quarter, but the host Panthers led at the end of the opening quarter, 13-10, thanks to a steal and layup at the other end by guard Nick Thomas.

Benton scored the first seven points of the second quarter to retake the lead, but Cabot battled back and regained that lead on a three-pointer by Hunter York with 3:09 left in the first half, which made the score 19-17.

The class 6A Panthers, though, closed the second period with a 9-4 run to take a 26-23 lead into halftime. Benton scored the first points of the second half on a basket inside by Josh Bowling to push its lead to 28-23, but Cabot wouldn’t stay down long.

The class 7A Panthers closed the quarter with a 13-5 run to lead 36-33 at the start of the fourth quarter.

Cabot could only increase its lead to four points in the final eight minutes, and Benton regained a lead it wouldn’t relinquish on a fadeaway jumper by Blake Bowlin that put the visitors up 42-41 with 4:16 to play.

From there, Benton steadily built on its lead, and sealed the game in its favor on a steal by Bowling that resulted in an easy layup on the offensive end, which put the 6A Panthers on top 48-42 with 37.6 seconds remaining. Free throws in the waning seconds set the final score.

In addition to its higher free-throw percentage, Benton was also the more efficient team from three-point range. The 6A Panthers were 5 for 9 from beyond the arc for 55 percent, while Cabot finished the game 5 for 16 from that distance for 31 percent.

Cabot outrebounded Ben-ton 17-12, and even though Bowling got the game-clinching takeaway in the game’s final seconds, each team did a good job of taking care of the ball, especially in the second half.

The host Panthers committed 12 turnovers in the game, and just three in the second half. Benton finished the game with 11 turnovers, with five of those coming in the final two quarters.

Bowling led all scorers with 20 points. Senior forward Adolfo Iglesias came off the bench to lead Cabot with 10 points and six rebounds, both of which were team highs.

Cabot played Beebe last night in the first round of the Relyance Bank Classic at White Hall, and will play again today against the host team at 4:45 p.m. at White Hall High School.