Friday, February 27, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot beats Tigers, into playoff race

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot boys put themselves in good position to get back to the Class 7A state playoffs next week with what ended up being a convincing 82-66 win over Little Rock Central in Thursday’s 7A/6A-East game at Panther Arena.

Cabot had to beat Central by four points Thursday in order to even get a chance at the playoffs. Even though the Panthers achieved that, the Tigers still had to lose last night’s after deadlines game against top-ranked North Little Rock in order for the Panthers to secure a spot in next week’s state tournament.

If the Charging Wildcats took care of business, though, as they should, then the Panthers are in as the No. 3 East seed.

“We didn’t just have to win, we had to win by four,” said Cabot coach Jerry Bridges. “We still need help. We need North Little Rock to get them (Friday) night for us, but I was proud of our guys.

“I thought we did a better job of stepping up our defense and just shutting the lane down. When you’ve had time off like we have, you’ll take it.”

Due to the recent winter weather, the Panthers’ last game before Thursday was last Saturday at home – a nail-biting win over Mountain Home. The time off didn’t seem to affect Cabot in the early goings of Thursday’s game, though.

Cabot started the game by making three of its first four shots from the floor and took an early 8-3 lead as a result. The Panthers maintained the lead at the end of the opening quarter, but by a narrow 17-14 margin.

The Panthers looked as if they might run away with it early in the second quarter, as they scored the first nine points of the quarter to further their lead to 26-14. Central, though, responded with a 9-0 run of its own to cut the Cabot lead to 26-23 by the 4:28 mark of the quarter.

Cabot’s next points came with 3:37 left in the half, which were a pair of free throws by point guard Bobby Joe Duncan. That made the score 28-23 Cabot, and sparked a 7-0 run that helped push the Panther lead to 33-23. All seven points during the run were scored by Duncan.

By halftime, Cabot’s lead was trimmed back down to single digits, with the score 35-28. Each team scored 18 points in the third quarter, and as a result, the Panthers’ lead stayed at seven at the start of the fourth, with the score 53-46.

Central did, however, threaten to take control of the game in the early goings of the fourth quarter. The Tigers made it a one-point game, 61-60, with 5:23 remaining on a long three by Cobi Platt.

It was then, though, that Cabot went on its scoring tear that put the game away. After Platt’s three, the Panthers went on a 15-1 scoring run to push their lead back to double digits, with the score 76-61.

The Panthers’ largest lead was 82-64. That score was set on a pair of free throws by Cabot junior forward Garrett Rowe, and came with 45.3 seconds remaining. Central managed two more points before the clock hit zero, setting the final margin.

It’s been quite a turnaround for the Panthers in recent weeks. They suffered a miserable losing streak at the start of their conference schedule, due in large part to a number of injuries to key starters. But all but one of those players has since returned to the rotation, which has contributed most to the team’s recent success.

In turn, the team itself has shown much improvement since the start of the conference season, and that progression paired with the key players that have returned from injuries has led to this unlikely turnaround.

“I don’t think anybody would’ve liked to have played eight conference games with three starters out like we had to,” Bridges said. “I mean, I’m proud of us just for where we’ve gotten to after a 0-6 run.

“We’ve gotten better. We have a long way to go, but we’re getting better.”

Cabot finished the game 30 of 57 from the floor for 53 percent. Central finished the game 23 of 55 from the floor for 42 percent. From 3-point range, the Panthers made 6 of 20 attempts, while the Tigers made 6 of 26 attempts.

From the free-throw line, Cabot went 16 for 21 for 76 percent, and the Tigers made 14 of 23 for 61 percent.

The Panthers, whose record improved to 14-10 overall and 4-8 in conference play with the win, outrebounded the Tigers 39-24, but the hosts had two more turnovers, 12, than Central’s 10 committed.

Rowe led all scorers with 27 points and 10 rebounds. Teammate Hunter Southerland had 26 points and seven boards, and fellow junior Jared Dixon was the only other Panther to score in double figures. He had 15 points and four rebounds.

Like Cabot, Central had three different players score in double figures. Cameron Johnson led the Tigers with 19 points. Platt scored 12 for Central, and Brennan Johnson had 10 points.