Tuesday, February 03, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers earn first conference win

Special to The Leader

The Cabot Panthers led by 12 points at halftime Friday night at home against the Searcy Lions, but saw the lead slip to three in the third quarter before coming back strong in the final quarter for a big 55-42 7A/6A-East Conference victory.

The Panthers are now 1-6 in conference play and 11-8 overall. Searcy remains winless in the conference and is 6-13 overall.

“We needed that,” Cabot coach Jerry Bridges said. “We’ve had a lot of injuries. I feel like we’ve been getting better. The scores may not show that with some of the people we play, but I really thought this team was getting better, because if you had seen us at Christmas, this is about a new team. This group is getting better, and we needed a win tonight. I just thought it was a great team effort. I thought we had decent balance, better than what we’ve been getting. It was a good win for us.”

Searcy got on the scoreboard first and led 4-0 before Hunter Southerland hit a 2-point basket for Cabot. Justice Cunningham gave the Lions a 6-2 lead, but Logan Gilbertson hit a two and Southerland a three from the wing to give the Panthers a 7-6 advantage.

Cabot did not trail again in the game, as it went on to lead 15-9 at the end of the first quarter with another 2-pointer by Gilbertson, a dunk by Jared Dixon, a layup by Bobby Joe Duncan, and a 2-point basket from the free-throw line by Southerland after he recovered a long offensive rebound.

The Panthers were hot from beyond the arc in the second quarter as they connected on four 3-point baskets. Duncan hit the first to open the scoring in the quarter, Southerland added two more, and Parker Childress the last to give Cabot a 29-17 lead. Each team added a free throw for the 30-18 halftime score.

The third quarter was the only one lost by the Panthers on the evening. Six turnovers by the home team helped the Lions to outscore Cabot 17-11 in the quarter, and the lead was narrowed to three at one point.

Southerland hit a pair of free throws, then a 2-pointer under the basket on an assist by Duncan to give the Panthers a 35-27 edge. Cunningham answered with a three for the Lions, but Phillip Wynne was fouled as he hit a 2-pointer under the basket and added the free throw for the old fashioned 3-point play, upping the Cabot lead to 38-30.

Cunningham struck again with another three, then James Wade a steal and score for five-straight points for Searcy to cut the lead to 38-35. That was as close as the Lions could get, though, as Wynne hit a three for Cabot to give him six points in the quarter and the Panthers a 41-35 lead at the end of three quarters of play.

The fourth quarter was much better for the Panthers, as they outscored Searcy 14-7, including 6 of 7 from the free-throw line. Cabot was shooting the double bonus, and the Lions were forced to foul to gain possession. Tyler Hill had four points in the quarter as well as Southerland, and Gilbertson contributed a traditional 3-point play on an offensive rebound putback and the free throw. Dixon added a final free throw to round out the final margin at 55-42.

“I was proud of our fourth quarter,” said Bridges. “I thought we regrouped, settled down, and we finished it strong.”

Southerland led the scoring for Cabot with 23 points, Duncan was next with nine, Gilbertson had seven points and Wynne six.

Cunningham led Searcy with 14 points, and Wade added 11 to the effort.

The Panthers were 11 of 15 from the free-throw stripe, while only allowing the Lions to go to the line eight times by committing only 10 team fouls the entire game. Searcy sank six of the eight.