Saturday, March 12, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers upset Tigers for first title

Leader sports editor

HOT SPRINGS – Hardly anyone gave them a chance, but the Cabot Panthers proved them all wrong Friday at Bank of the Ozarks Arena. That’s where the Panthers upset heavily-favored Bentonville 59-49 to win the Class 7A state championship.

Bentonville scored the first four points of the fourth quarter to take a 40-33 lead with seven minutes left in the game, and Cabot dominated the rest of the way.

From seven down, the Panthers exploded for an 18-2 run over the next 3:44. Cabot junior Jarrod Barnes started and ended the run. His old-fashioned 3-point play pulled Cabot (21-9) to within four with 6:34 remaining. His 3-pointer gave the Panthers a 51-42 lead with 3:16 to go.

“He’s an athlete,” said Cabot coach Jerry Bridges. “We bring him off the bench but we really consider him a starter. He had a phenomenal night.”

Cabot also did a number on the Tigers’ senior and Kentucky signee Malik Monk, holding Monk, who averaged more than 30 points per game, to just 19. The 6-foot-3 shooting guard went 0 for 11 from 3-point range, and 2 for 12 overall in the fourth quarter.

“The game was won in the second and fourth quarters,” Bridges said. “I think in the second quarter they wore down. They got tired. I think our guys believed that, that they weren’t in as good a shape as us. And I just told them in the fourth quarter, just turn it up. Step it up. This thing ain’t over. We can do this, and they responded.”

After Barnes’ 3-pointer that pulled Cabot to within 40-36, Monk dished to post player Ty Robinson to put the Tigers back up 42-36. Cabot then reeled off 15-straight points. Hunter Southerland hit a 3-pointer and Monk missed at the other end. Barnes then drained a 3-pointer to tie the game and force a Bentonville timeout with 5:19 to play. The break failed to stem the Panther tide.

After another Bentonville miss, Barnes got two offensive rebounds after misses and scored on the third attempt to put the Panthers up 44-42. Southerland then stripped Jordan Hemphill and hit Bobby Joe Duncan for a layup.

Monk missed a long 3-pointer and Garrett Rowe came down with the rebound. After starting the transition, Rowe also finished it, taking Duncan’s pass in the paint and dropping it in for a six-point Cabot lead with 3:57 remaining.

Bentonville (21-10) turned it over and that’s when Barnes’ three put the Panthers up by nine.

The lead reached as much as 11 and Bentonville was never closer than seven the rest of the way.

Things didn’t go well for Cabot from the opening tip-off. The Panthers had three turnovers before they had a shot attempt, and Bentonville scored the game’s first nine points.

But Cabot didn’t panic and the bench came through big in the last half of the opening quarter. Chandler Casteel came off the bench and provided a spark on the boards, and Logan Gilbertson hit a big 3-pointer after five Cabot misses. Gilbertson’s shot pulled Cabot to within 13-5, and the Panthers closed the quarter on a 7-2 run to trail 15-9 at the end of the frame.

“That was a lot like our Springdale game a week ago when we were down 11 at the half,” Bridges said of his team’s poor start. “I just wanted them to keep playing and keep grinding through. It’s these guys and a little bit about what we do in the offseason. These guys work hard.”

The Panthers controlled the action in the second quarter. Matt Stanley opened the frame with a bucket on the inside, and Cabot made an effort from that point to feed the 6-foot-8 forward.

Barnes blocked a Hemphill shot and Gilbertson scored at the other end to make it a two-point game 91 seconds into the second quarter. Bentonville then scored five-straight to go back up by seven, but Cabot answered with a 10-0 run to take its first lead of the game.

The run started with a 3-pointer by Barnes that made it 20-16. After a stop, Stanley put back a Duncan miss, and Bentonville turned it over leading by two.

The two teams traded two turnovers each before Duncan fed Stanley inside, and he tied the game with 2:50 remaining in the half.

Monk fired from about 28 feet on the next possession and missed, and Gilbertson nailed his second 3-pointer of the game to put Cabot ahead for the first time, 23-20 with 2:20 on the clock.

Each team scored just once from that point. Hemphill went the length of the court and scored just seconds after Gilbertson’s three, and Stanley got another bucket off an assist by Duncan to send the Panthers into intermission with a 25-22 lead.

Monk’s 19 led all scorers. Robinson added 13 for the Tigers.

Barnes led Cabot with 17 points while Stanley finished with 13. Both Panthers had a team-high six rebounds. Duncan had six points and 10 assists.