Tuesday, December 22, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers get thrilling win, sluggish loss

Leader sports editor

CONWAY – The Cabot Panthers didn’t finish like they wanted to, but they did prove something to themselves with their mixed results at the Wampus Cat Invitational on Friday and Saturday. The Panthers came back from a 17-point, third-quarter deficit to defeat Fayetteville 60-58 on Friday night. They came back for an 11 a.m. game on Saturday against 6-foot-11 Mitchell Smith and the Van Buren Pointers, and lost a sluggish, foul marred game, 53-42.

In Friday’s upset of the Bulldogs, Cabot trailed 27-17 at halftime and that deficit grew to 37-20 midway through the third quarter. That’s when the Panthers got things rolling. Jalen Brown came off the bench and sank a pair of 3-pointers and Jarrod Barnes added a third that helped spark Cabot’s charge to victory.

“I was really proud of our guys because at one time we dug ourselves a huge hole,” said Cabot coach Jerry Bridges on Saturday. “Jalen came in and sparked us and we just got it going. We started hitting shots and when you start hitting shots your intensity level on defense picks up. It was a hard-fought game. It might’ve taken a little out of us with such a quick turnaround, but I was just proud of our guys and how we kept competing. I know today we didn’t finish like we wanted, but if anything, these last two days have showed us we can play with some of the top teams in 7A. Now let’s get to where we can bring it night in and night out.”

Cabot junior post player Matt Stanley became a factor in the second half. After scoring just one point in the first half, Stanley finished with a game-high 18 points, including going 5 for 5 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter.

Hunter Southerland scored 14 in the win. Peyton Willis scored 17 to lead Fayetteville while Spencer Brown added 13.

In Saturday’s game, Van Buren scored more than half its points at the free-throw line, going 33 of 47. Smith, who signed with the University of Missouri just before the start of the season, scored 18 of his game-high 22 at the line.

At one point late in the third quarter, the free-throw count was 20-0 in favor of the Pointers. Cabot finished the game 9 of 14 from the line.

Bridges expressed his dissatisfaction with the officials throughout the second half, but declined to say much about it after the game.

“I just should have adjusted us earlier if that’s the way they were going to call it,” Bridges said. “I kind of felt like the green jerseys were being pretty physical inside, too, so I would’ve just liked to have seen some more balance in free throws. But it wasn’t. It was clear early on how it was going to go and I should’ve recognized it earlier and made that adjustment.”

After a first-half foul count of 14 on Cabot and 4 on Van Buren, the Panthers were called for three more fouls in the first 30 seconds of the third quarter, and Van Buren shot eight free throws in the first 97 seconds of the period.

Van Buren only made five shots from the floor in the second half, and scored 21 of its 31 second-half points at the foul line.

The Panthers kept it close in the third with 3-pointers by Logan Gilbertson and Bobby Joe Duncan. After post players Matt Stanley and Chandler Casteel got into foul trouble guarding Smith, Jared Dixon entered the game and scored a quick basket. He also drew two fouls inside on the Pointers, but only hit 1 of 4 free-throw attempts.

Van Buren led 31-24 at the end of the third. Cabot’s defense played well early in the fourth quarter, but the Panthers struggled to convert on the offensive end. The Panthers got steals on three-straight Van Buren possessions and forced a turnover on a fourth, but managed just one free throw out of the four subsequent possessions combined.

“Like I said, we didn’t finish like we wanted,” Bridges said. “I told coach (Nathan) Brown coming into this thing, we might lose two but it’ll make us better. I think last year we were playing DeWitt and Hamburg these two days. So we stepped up in class and we learned a lot. Hopefully we’ll cross paths later in the year and do a better job. We let the big boy take over too much today.”

Smith was the only player in the game to score in double figures. He also had six rebounds and four blocked shots. Van Buren point guard Jaylynn Dye scored eight points and added seven assists and three steals. Hayden Salisbury scored nine for Van Buren, all from the free-throw line.

Duncan and Southerland led Cabot with seven points each while Brown and Gilbert-son scored six apiece.

Cabot (7-2) plays again at 5:15 Monday against Forrest City in the first round of the Zebra Invitational at Pine Bluff High School.