Tuesday, December 31, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers win two at Beebe

Leader sportswriter

With a nail-biting 48-47 win over defending class 3A state champion Harding Academy on Friday, and a close 50-43 win over class 4A Brookland on Saturday, the Cabot Panthers advanced to the championship game of the Beebe Christmas Classic.

In Friday’s matchup with the Wildcats at Badger Sports Arena, the Panthers were down one with less than 10 seconds to play, but sophomore Garrett Rowe got a rebound and putback with five seconds remaining, and the Cabot defense kept Harding Academy away from the rim on the game’s final possession toensure the win. Brookland (6-4), a team that has everybody back from last year’s group that advanced all the way to the class 4A state semifinals, proved to be just as tough of a test in the semifinal round of the Christmas Classic at Badger Sports Arena.

Cabot (8-2) got off to a 6-1 start Saturday against the Bearcats, but the Panthers’ lead was cut to 8-5 by the end of the first quarter. The Panthers held the lead through most of the second quarter, but two big three-pointers by Brookland’s Chandler Thompson at the end of the quarter made it a 20-20 game at halftime.

“We played a good team tonight,” said Cabot coach Jerry Bridges. “I don’t care if they are 4A. They’ve got everybody back from last year’s final four run, so they’ve got a lot of confidence in themselves. We knew coming in they weren’t going to be in awe of us being a 7A school.

“Basketball, you just put five out there. It’s not each student body against each other, but this is how it’s going to be here soon anyway. So we better get used to the grind and get used to playing in close games, hopefully.”

Cabot led by as much as six points in the third quarter, but by the end of the period, Brookland cut the Panthers’ lead to three with the score 29-26. The Panthers opened the fourth quarter with a 7-0 run to push their lead to 10.

That run was capped by a Nick Thomas steal on an inbound pass, and Thomas took it the distance and finished with an and-one with 6:32 to play in the final quarter, which made the score 36-26. After Thomas’ and-one, Brookland went on a run of its own.

The Bearcats got to within three points of the Cabot lead with a Dillon Groves three-pointer with 2:15 to play, which cut Brookland’s deficit to 40-37. From there, Cabot built back up its lead with free-throw shooting, something the Panthers have struggled with throughout the short season.

Thomas, Michael Smith and Jake Ferguson combined to go 6 for 6 at the stripe from the 2:08 mark of the fourth quarter to the 1:19 mark, and Brookland failed to score during that stretch thanks to two missed three-pointers, which made the score 46-37 Cabot.

Brookland point guard CJ Henry got a steal that led to a layup at the other end, which cut Cabot’s lead to seven with 53.3 seconds remaining. Smith went 1 for 2 at the line on the Panthers’ next possession to make the score 47-39 Cabot, but Brookland got two more buckets by the 24-second mark to cut the Panther lead to 47-43.

That was the closest the Bearcats would get though the rest of the way, as Thomas made 3 of 4 free throws in the game’s final seconds to set the final score.

“I was proud of us tonight,” Bridges said. “I know our free throws weren’t great, but it was much better. We did hold on and we got that win.”

Cabot finished the game 18 for 29 from the free-throw line for 62 percent, but made 10 of 14 foul shots from the 2:08 mark of the fourth quarter to the game’s final buzzer. Brookland was 9 for 15 from the line for 60 percent.

The Panthers were 15 for 28 from the floor for 54 percent. Conversely, Brookland was 14 for 34 from the floor for 41 percent. Cabot also outrebounded the Bearcats 21-14.

Smith led the Panthers with a game-high 17 points. Thomas scored 11. Adolfo Iglesias scored nine and Rowe added eight for Cabot. Will Ballard led Brookland with 11 points.

Cabot played Pulaski Academy in the tournament championship game Monday night after deadlines. Look for details of the championship game in Saturday’s edition of The Leader.