Tuesday, February 09, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot mounts comeback to beat Wildcats

Leader sportswriter

Cabot trailed by nine points entering halftime of Friday night’s 7A/6A-East Conference game against North Little Rock at Panther Arena, but the Panthers rallied in the second half, forced overtime and completed the regular-season sweep of the Charging Wildcats with a hard-fought 69-63 win.

The Panthers (14-6, 5-3) controlled most of the game in the first meeting between the two teams last month in NLR, but Friday’s game, at least in the first half, was controlled by the Charging Wildcats.

North Little Rock (10-10, 4-4) only led 14-12 at the end of the first quarter, but extended that lead to 27-18 by halftime. The defending Class 7A state champions led by as much as 34-22 in the third quarter, but that was when Cabot began its comeback.

The Panthers steadily chipped away at NLR’s lead in the third quarter, and by the start of the fourth, Cabot only trailed 41-38. Despite only trailing by three points at the end of the third quarter, NLR maintained the lead through the bulk of the fourth quarter, but never led by more than five points.

Cabot tied the game for the first time in the second half with 2:26 left in regulation. The game-tying basket was the result of a Hunter Southerland steal at half court, and one-hand slam by the senior forward that led to an eruption of cheers from the home crowd.

Southerland’s thunderous dunk tied the game at 50-50, but NLR senior scorer Adrian Moore answered with two free throws shortly after that put the Wildcats back up by two, 52-50.

Cabot tied the game at 52-52 on a pair of Matt Stanley free throws with 2:09 to go in the fourth, and the Panthers took the lead on an inside basket by Southerland with 1:19 remaining. The go-ahead basket was set up by good ball movement from the Panthers in their half-court set, and a well-timed pass by Stanley from the free-throw line.

North Little Rock tied the game at 54-54 on the ensuing possession with two free throws by B.J. Walker, and after crossing half court, the Panthers held the ball for the last shot, but couldn’t convert on what was supposed to be the final shot of regulation.

Point guard Bobby Joe Duncan drove to the basket with nine seconds left, but his shot attempt was well defended. After the unsuccessful shot attempt by Duncan, Southerland chased down and dove for the loose ball near the perimeter.

As Southerland gained possession of the ball, while still on the floor, he simultaneously called and signaled timeout, but instead of being granted the timeout, he was called for traveling with 3.7 seconds left.

The questionable call, which gave NLR the final possession of regulation, was followed by a barrage of boos from the home crowd and protests by the Cabot coaching staff, but Moore’s contested 3-point attempt that followed fell short and forced overtime with the score 54-54.

Cabot struck first in overtime with a pair of free throws by junior guard Jarrod Barned 22 seconds into the extra period. NLR tied it up at 56-56 on the next possession with two free throws by Morris Talbert.

With 2:38 left in OT, Stanley put the hosts back up with two free throws of his own and Barnes added the next two points with one his several contested, acrobatic layups of the night. That one put Cabot up 60-56 with 1:57 remaining.

Barnes added another one of those layups with 1:24 left, and it gave Cabot a 62-56 lead. The closest NLR got to Cabot’s lead the rest of the way was 65-63 on a 3-pointer by Walker with 22 seconds left.

Needing to foul, NLR put Panther sophomore guard Jalen Brown on the line, and Brown made both free throws to push Cabot’s lead to 67-63 with 18.5 tics to play. The Wildcats turned it over on the following possession and Barnes added the game-clinching layup with six seconds left that also set the final score.

“I was proud of our guys because we grinded,” said Cabot coach Jerry Bridges. “After the first half, we talked in the dressing room at halftime. I didn’t think our shot selection was very good or our rebounding, and I thought that got better as the game went on.

“I give credit to our kids and North Little Rock. They’re still good and they got pride and they’re well-coached. It was just a grind. We grinded it out, we hit some shots to get in it and we were fortunate, but it was a good team effort by everybody. I thought we did what we had to do to get back in this game.”

Barnes, a two-time All-State quarterback on the Cabot football team, scored 15 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, with eight of those points coming in the extra period, and a good chunk of those points were scored on incredibly-athletic plays while driving to the basket.

“When Jarrod slows down and plays at a controlled pace, and I think that’s what he’s starting to do for us now, I mean, he’s a good player,” Bridges said. “He’s dynamic on the floor like he is on the football field and he’s an athlete, man. I wish I could take credit for that, but I can’t take credit for that.”

For the game, Cabot made 21 of 48 shot attempts for 44 percent, including a perfect 3 of 3 from the floor in overtime (all by Barnes). North Little Rock made 15 of 45 shots from the floor for 33 percent, including 2 of 7 in overtime.

From the free-throw line, the Panthers made 25 of 30 attempts, including 12 of 13 in the second half and 9 of 10 in overtime, and the Wildcats made 30 of 38 attempts in the game. Neither team shot well from 3-point range. Cabot was 2 for 17 from the perimeter and NLR was 3 for 18.

Cabot narrowly outrebounded NLR 28-27, and the Panthers won the turnover category 11-16. After committing eight turnovers in the first half, the Panthers had just three combined in the second half and overtime.

Stanley led all scorers with 21 points and nine rebounds. Other than Barnes, Southerland also scored in double figures for Cabot, finishing with 12 points. Duncan and Brown added seven points apiece.

Two different Wildcats scored in double figures Friday. Moore led the team with 17 points and Walker added 16.

With the win, the Panthers qualified for the Class 7A state tournament for the ninth-consecutive season. This year’s Class 7A state tournament will be held at Panther Arena on March 2-5.