Leader Blues

Friday, December 12, 2008

SPORTS>>Panthers falter down stretch against Comets

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

No sooner had Cabot erased the sting of its disappointing loss to Conway last Saturday in the Searcy Bank Classic final than it got stung again.

The Panthers made some poor and hasty decisions down the stretch on Thursday afternoon and fell to Mills, 65-62, in the first round of the CAC Invitational. Cabot led by four points with less than three minutes remaining, but ill-advised shots and turnovers allowed the Comets to rally.

Nick Hansberry, whose three-pointer with 2:40 left narrowed the Cabot lead to one point, stepped to the line and hit two free throws with 5.3 seconds left to put the Comets up 63-62. Chris Hampton then stole a Cabot passin backcourt and finished it off with a lay-up at the buzzer for the final margin.

“You’d have thought we were the team behind,” said Cabot head coach Jerry Bridges, whose Panthers fell to 5-2. “I’ve got a senior ball club and, apparently, I haven’t done a good enough job of teaching them the decision-making process toward the end of the game. We had a bunch of boneheaded mistakes and I’ll take responsibility for that.”

Cabot had seven turnovers in the final period — four over the final two minutes, 24 seconds. The Panthers led 62-58 with 3:30 left in the game after Adam Sterrenberg, who led the way with 29 points and six steals, made 3 of 4 free throws over a 21-second span.

Hansberry hit a three from the left corner 50 seconds later to narrow the margin to one. After a Cabot turnover, the Panthers dodged a bullet when Mills missed a dead-on lay-up that would have given them the lead with 1:58 left, but Sterrenberg was called for a charge. The Comets misfired on a three, but this time, Austin Johnson traveled driving down the lane on the other end with 1:19 left.

It was during a timeout that Bridges could be heard imploring his team to realize that it was ahead, not behind.

“We’re the home team on the scoreboard, fellas,” he told them.

The Panthers played great defense over the next minute and Mills called a timeout with 11.4 seconds left. Hansberry drove across the lane from the right wing. Johnson was whistled for the foul that sent Hansberry to the line for the game winners.

In an extremely entertaining first half in which offense trumped defense, Cabot knocked down 6 of 10 three-pointers to lead 36-33. Sterrenberg knocked down a pair of threes over the first minute, 52 seconds to stake the Panthers to a 6-0 lead.

But the sharp-shooting, athletic Comets exploited Cabot’s 1-3-1 defense for easy buckets inside, and a pair of threes by Hampton that put Mills ahead 15-11 late in the first. It was tied at 17 after one when Johnson hit a three-pointer with three seconds left.

Neither team led by more than six points, which was Cabot’s lead after three periods. But three straight buckets by Montez Peterson and two Hansberry free throws capped off a Mills’ 8-1 run and gave it a 55-52 lead with 5:14 left in the game.

Sterrenberg tied it with a pull-up three 15 seconds later. Johnson’s rebound basket and two Sterrenberg free throws had Cabot up 59-55.

But another defensive breakdown on the other end allowed Kyle Jackson inside for a bucket and a free throw that cut the lead to one.

“We didn’t play defense, that’s the bottom line,” Bridges said. “We didn’t play with intensity the whole game. We didn’t put forth the effort and got outplayed and outhustled.”

The Panthers had 11 of their turnovers after half to finish with 14 and made only 8 of 24 second-half shots to finish 21 of 51.

After making 6 of 10 threes in the first half, Cabot missed 7 of 8 in the second half. Mills also dominated on the glass, enjoying a 37-27 advantage.

After getting a lot of people into the scoring column against Pulaski Academy on Tuesday, Cabot had only four players score against Mills. Sterrenberg had 29, while Johnson added 19. Miles Monroe, with nine points and 10 rebounds, and Jack Bridges, with five points, were the only other Panthers to score.

Cabot tried to bounce back in a consolation game against Pulaski Academy played after Leader deadlines yesterday.

“I hope we learn from this,” Bridges said. “We’re a veteran club, though we sure didn’t show that tonight.”