Tuesday, February 16, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Panther defense comes through to avenge defeat

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panther defense smothered West Memphis Friday en route to a 54-36 victory at Panther Arena. The win avenges Cabot’s only 7A conference loss of the season, with one left to play. West Memphis beat Cabot 53-44 on Jan. 15, but the Panthers (15-7, 6-4) now have the inside track on a No. 1 seed in the state tournament it will host the first week of March.

“I thought we played better than we have been – we defended better than the last couple games,” said Cabot coach Jerry Bridges. His team had given up 66 and 63 points in its last two games, but West Memphis not only had trouble scoring, but had trouble even getting shots up.

Cabot’s Garrett Rowe scored quickly after the tip-off, and Cabot’s defense set the tone quickly. The Panthers defended for 90 seconds without giving up a shot attempt, and then forced a turnover when a skip pass sailed high and out of bounds.

“I felt like after that first (defensive) possession that maybe we were going to be OK tonight,” Bridges said. “We weren’t in the passing lanes. Our game plan was to let them catch it and close up the lanes. They like to get inside on you with the dribble and we did a great job of keeping them from doing that. We made a couple mistakes here and there and they made us pay for it, but for the most part we stuck to the game plan and did a good job.”

Cabot didn’t shoot well in the first half, making just 6 of 20 shot attempts, but the defense gave up just two field goals, one in each quarter, the entire first half.

West Memphis (12-8, 6-4) got just five field-goal attempts in each of the first two quarters, hitting one 2-pointer in the first quarter and one 3-pointer in the second. The other six points came at the line. The Panthers did not get to the line the entire first half.

The Panthers opened the second half with a 5-0 run, all by Rowe. His first bucket came on a penetrate-and-dish from point guard Bobby Joe Duncan. His second shot was a 3-pointer after an assist by forward Hunter Southerland.

Zachary Byrd answered for West Memphis to make it 24-13, but Cabot’s Jalen Brown hit a 3-pointer 20 seconds later to make it 27-13 and force West Memphis coach Larry Bray to call a timeout.

After the break, West Memphis put together a 7-2 run with all seven points coming from Byrd, who single-handedly kept the Blue Devils in the game. Byrd came off the bench to score 14 of his team’s 20 points through three quarters. He finished with game highs in points (17) and rebounds (10).

Cabot scored first in the fourth quarter, but Ahmere Albert hit a 3-pointer to make it 31-23. Cabot took over from there. Rowe got three steals to spark an 11-0 run that put the game out of reach for the Blue Devils.

The Panthers had shot only three free throws through three quarters, but went to the line frequently in the fourth when West Memphis was forced to foul to extend the game. Cabot was deadly from the line, hitting 13 of 15 over the last four minutes after missing their first two of the period.

The Panthers shot 50 percent from the floor, hitting 17 of 34 attempts, including 6 of 12 from 3-point range. They finished 14 of 20 from the free-throw line.

West Memphis outrebounded Cabot 20-13, but hit just 9 of 38 shot attempts and went 16 of 24 from the free-throw line.

Duncan and Rowe each scored 14 points to lead Cabot. Duncan also had six assists.

The win guarantees Cabot a spot in the 7A playoffs.

“We’re in for sure,” Bridges said. “We still have a chance at a one seed even with two (7A) losses if some things break our way. And this win takes some of the pressure off going into Little Rock Central.”