Wednesday, March 09, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers answer Bryant in overtime

Leader sports editor

The Bryant Hornets erased an eight-point deficit in about two minutes to force overtime, but the Cabot Panthers prevailed 50-47 in the semifinals of the Class 7A state tournament Saturday at Panther Arena.

The win punched Cabot’s ticket to its first-ever state championship game, which will be at 8:45 p.m. Friday at the Hot Springs Convention Center against Bentonville.

With 2:48 remaining in regulation, the Panthers held a 43-35 lead and appeared well on their way to that first championship appearance. But Bryant clamped down on defense and held the Panthers scoreless, and tied the game with 47 seconds left on two free throws by point guard Calvin Allen.

“I think you had a team on the other side that was wanting to win as bad as we wanted to win,” said Cabot coach Jerry Bridges. “Both teams D’d up and that’s what that was about. I’ve said ever since this thing started, whoever wins this will be the one that plays the best defense.”

Bryant upset 7A-West champion Fayetteville in the quarterfinals, hitting 11 of 19 from 3-point range. The Hornets were only able to attempt 11 against Cabot, and made just two. The perimeter defense forced Bryant to attack the basket, where inside defenders drew five charges.

“I thought for the most part this game, we did a good job of defending their three,” Bridges said. “I know they didn’t shoot near as many as they did when we watched them play Fayetteville. That’s one thing I stressed. Another thing is, with their quickness, if we’re closing out hard, they’re going hard to the basket and you have to be willing to step in and take a hit. And this guy right here (putting his hand on Logan Gilbertson’s shoulder) will step in front of a train. I just credit our whole team and our defensive effort the whole game.”

After a fourth quarter in which 16 of the 18 combined points scored were from the foul line, Bryant made it a 10-0 run by scoring the first two points in overtime, also from the foul line. Kevin Hunt hit the free throws with 2:55 remaining to put the Hornets up 45-43.

Cabot’s Matt Stanley answered with a basket while being fouled. It was Cabot’s first field goal since Gilbertson’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer that ended the third quarter with Cabot leading 35-33. Stanley missed the free throw, but took a charge at the other end to give possession back to the Panthers. Jarrod Barnes missed a driving attempt, but Hunter Southerland was there for the rebound and putback, giving Cabot a 47-45 lead with 1:25 remaining.

The Panther defense drew a five second count on Bryant with 1:17 to play, and Southerland gave Cabot a four-point lead with 38 seconds to go.

Bobby Joe Duncan made another huge defensive play on Bryant’s next possession. After knocking the ball out of bounds, Duncan tipped Romen Martin’s inbound pass back into Martin’s hands before he could step onto the playing court, giving Cabot possession with 27 seconds remaining.

Bryant fouled Barnes, who missed two free throws three seconds later, but Martin also missed on Bryant’s end and Duncan got the rebound and was fouled. He made one of two with 10 seconds to go. Bryant scored with four seconds left, but Cabot didn’t have to inbound the ball as time expired.

“I think it’s something special,” Bridges said through emerging tears about the team’s first run to a championship game. “I’m sorry. These kids work hard. I’m very demanding. I’m sure if I left they’d tell y’all some good stories. But I love these kids. I tell them, just like everybody remembers their first kiss, you win that first championship, everybody’s going to remember you.”

Duncan led Cabot (19-9) with 12 points while Gilbertson added 10. Allen led Bryant (22-8) with 12. Hunt and Martin each scored 11 and Braylon Steel added 10 for the Hornets.

“This is a great place, from our administrators on down,” Bridges said. “Everybody works hard. We’ve got good kids willing to work hard and overachieve. I hope all of Cabot will come down and pack the arena. Our kids will be ready. We know what’s on the other side, but we like our team, too. So let’s go see.”