Monday, January 25, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot grinds out crucial East victory

Leader sports editor

Reeling from a two-game losing streak, the Cabot Panthers came through with a very important home win Tuesday, beating Little Rock Central 55-52 in a key 7A/6A-East Conference matchup.

The Panthers led at the outset, but a 7-0 run by the Tigers gave them a 9-3 lead that it held most of the next three quarters. Cabot led briefly on the strength of a pair of 3-pointers in the second quarter, one by Bobby Joe Duncan and one by Jalen Brown. Central answered with another run late in the half. Henry Dudley came off the bench to sink a pair of 3-pointers for the Tigers and lead them to a 27-23 lead at halftime.

Central’s halftime total was just three points fewer than its game total when the two teams met in the Pine Bluff Invitational, a game Cabot won 43-30.

Central’s Cameron Johnson had much to do with the Tigers’ better offensive performance on Tuesday, but Cabot’s Matt Stanley countered that with one of his better games this season as primarily a post player.

“Central is big and we needed him down there,” said Cabot coach Jerry Bridges of Stanley. “He’s working hard and he’s coming along. He’s getting better and better. And he’s such a good kid you love seeing him succeed. He just needs a little more of that tough guy attitude down low, and he showed a little more of it tonight.”

Stanley finished with a team-high 19 points, including 10 during Cabot’s fourth-quarter comeback.

The Panthers (11-5, 2-2) started the third quarter with a 9-2 run and took a 33-31 lead with 3:45 left in the period. Central turned the tables after that, and closed the third quarter with its own 9-2 run and led 40-35 going into the fourth quarter.

It was again Cabot’s turn to run at the start of the fourth, but for this run Central had no answer. The Panthers extended their zone defense into a full-court pressure, and Central fell apart.

Duncan hit a baseline floater a minute into the final frame after a Garrett Rowe steal. Hunter Southerland then stole the ball and missed a contested layup, but Stanley followed with a putback dunk as the ball rolled off the front of the rim. Logan Gilbertson took a charge on Central’s next possession, and Stanley made two free throws at the other end to give Cabot a 41-40 lead with 5:50 left in the game.

Central threw the ball away on its next possession, but Cabot did not convert. Gilbertson then got a steal that led to another putback by Stanley. With five minutes left in the game, Central (6-6, 2-2) had five possessions, five turnovers and no shot attempts in the fourth quarter and the Panthers held a 43-40 lead.

“I was proud of our defense in the fourth quarter,” Bridges said. “We grinded to get this one. It was just token pressure, but it threw them off a little bit and we were able to take advantage of that.”

Central finally got a shot away with 4:40 left in the game, a missed 3-point attempt, and Cabot converted to complete a 10-0 run and take a 45-40 lead. Central finally scored when it worked the ball around the perimeter until Raquan Rogers was left all alone under the basket for an easy layup that made it 45-42 with 3:33 remaining.

Gilbertson answered just 18 seconds later, and Central’s Matthew Means converted a 3-point play just 11 seconds after that to make it 47-45 with 3:05 left.

Cabot held the ball for well over a minute on its next possession before Stanley took a pass at the free-throw line and worked his way through Means and Rogers for a hard-fought bucket on the low block.

Rowe then got a steal and slam dunk to make it 51-45 with 1:44 left in the game and force a Central timeout.

Johnson hit a 3-pointer out of the break to pull the Tigers to within three, but after failing to get a steal, Central was forced to foul with 40 seconds left. Cabot hit 4 of 6 foul shots in the last 40 seconds to seal the win.

Johnson led all scorers with 23 points and was the only Tiger to score in double figures. Duncan and Rowe each scored 10 points for the Panthers. Stanley added seven rebounds to his total while Rowe and Gilbertson each had six.