Wednesday, January 15, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Wildcats hold off Cabot

Leader sportswriter

Cabot stayed right with last year’s class 7A state champion North Little Rock Charging Wildcats after a quarter of play, but the defending champs separated themselves in the second quarter and coasted to a 65-47 victory in the 7A/6A East Conference opener Friday at the North Little Rock High School Arena.

The Panthers (9-4, 0-1) came out ready to at least compete with the more talented Charging Wildcats (11-1, 1-0), as sophomore forward Hunter Southerland scored the first seven points of the game, which put the host team in an early 7-0 hole.

Southerland capped the early run with a three-pointer, but a successful jumper by KJ Hill sparked a 10-0 NLR run, and by the end of the quarter, the Charging Wildcats led 12-11. The second quarter wasn’t near as close.

North Little Rock outscored the visiting Panthers 25-7 in the second quarter to lead 37-18 at halftime.

The Charging Wildcats grabbed their first double-digit lead at 26-15 on a Sam Dunkum putback with 3:46 remaining in the half, and went up 20 with just over a minute to play on a pair of free throws by Chibu Ekeh, which made the score 36-16 NLR.

Cabot sophomore Garrett Rowe hit a pair of free throws of his own with 34.5 ticks remaining, which cut the Panthers’ deficit to 18, but North Little Rock’s Rokar Williams set the halftime margin on a free throw with 4.3 seconds to play.

“I wish we could have five or six minutes of that second quarter to do over again,” said Cabot coach Jerry Bridges. “It might not be any better, I don’t know. But they got us rushing and you saw what happened from there. They’ve got some outstanding guards.”

Cabot couldn’t make up any ground in the third quarter, but played evenly with the defending champs in that quarter and outscored them in the fourth, albeit with the game out of reach.

At the end of three, NLR led 51-31, and the Panthers outscored the Charging Wildcats 16-14 in the final eight minutes to set the final score.

“Our kids could’ve laid down,” Bridges said, “but I thought we kept trying hard and competing. And we’re a better team. We’re better than last year, I promise you that. And we’re going to try to find the good things out of this, and we’re going to build off of those and try and get back in the race.

“Boy, it’s no fun having to open up (conference play) with them right off the bat. That was their first home game of the year, so you can factor that in. They’re solid, but I wasn’t disappointed in our guys. It was a good experience for us that hopefully we can grow and learn from.”

North Little Rock outrebounded Cabot, but just narrowly, 27-25. The Charging Wildcats also won the turnover margin with 18, bettering Cabot’s 21, though the Panthers committed just four in the second half. The majority of Cabot’s turnovers came during the Charging Wildcats’ monster run in the second quarter.

The Wildcats also had the better shooting percentage, making 23 of 55 shots from the floor for 42 percent. Cabot was 15 of 47 from the floor for 32 percent.

Southerland was the only Panther to finish the game in double figures. He scored 12 points. North Little Rock had four players finish in double figures. Kevaughn Allen led all scorers with 19 points. Anton Beard scored 15 points. Hill scored 13, and Adrian Moore added 10 for NLR.

The Panthers continued conference play this week with a home game against Marion yesterday, and will play another 7A/6A East game Friday at Mountain Home. Tip-off for Friday’s game is at 7:30 p.m.