Leader Blues

Friday, January 23, 2009

SPORTS>>Cabot boys charitable in setback

Leader sports editor

It was enough to make a coach drop his clipboard a couple of times, which is what Jerry Bridges did on Tuesday night while watching his Cabot Panthers struggle to a critical 58-49 loss at Little Rock Central.

The Panthers missed 10 of 14 free throws, got out-rebounded 33-20 and time and again allowed Central’s big duo of Jordan Washington and Chuckudy Ekeh to get inside their 1-3-1 zone for easy baskets.

Cabot fell to 12-5 overall, 2-2 in 7A-Central play, while the Tigers picked up their first league win to move to 1-3, 8-6 overall.

“I thought we played hard but we lost the battle of toughness,” Bridges said. “They won all of the loose ball battles. You have to win the tough game. We had chances to take a charge and bailed. Then you factor in the free-throw line. It was just another tough night in the 7A-Central.”

With Adam Sterrenberg fighting just to get an open look and Miles Monroe on the bench in foul trouble, only Austin Johnson was able to keep Cabot in the contest.

Cabot fell behind 9-2 in a game in which it never led, but good outside shooting late in the first quarter allowed the Panthers to climb back in it. Johnson scored 10 of his 22 points in the first half to account for half of the Panthers’ total before intermission. His end-to-end acrobatic scoop and another lay-up with 5:06 tied the game at 15, but Central took a 27-20 lead into the locker room.

“Austin has just played great ball since conference and even going back to the Coca-Cola Classic (in December),” Bridges said. “His focus has been better. I am so proud of the way Austin has been playing lately.”

Sterrenberg scored only one point in the first half and struggled to a 2-of-7 night at the free-throw line. The Central lead grew to 11 midway through the third quarter, but three straight Cabot baskets, including Sterrenberg’s first of the game on a baseline reverse, had the Panthers to within 37-32.

Monroe fouled out early in the final period, but Johnson hit a three-pointer and got a steal and lay-in over an 18-second span to whittle the gap to 40-37. Once again, though, the Tigers were able to whip passes down to the block for a pair of easy baskets to extend their lead back to seven.

“We’re not putting enough pressure on the ball, not getting our arms up,” Bridges said of the defensive breakdowns inside. “We’re long but if we keep our hands down to our side, we’re not taking advantage of our wing span and they’re able to find that guy down there a little easier. They exposed us right there.”

Jack Bridges got a three to fall and Johnson banked one in to narrow the lead to 48-45 with 3:22 left. It was 51-45 with less than two minutes remaining when Cabot made it’s final charge. Sterrenberg got a steal and lay-up, then got another steal and capped it off with a baseline reverse as the Panthers crawled to within 51-49 with 56 seconds left.

Central, which early struggled just about as badly at the line as Cabot, hit their critical free throws, making 7 of 8 over the final 49 seconds.

Bridges and Sterrenberg both missed threes down the stretch as Cabot desperately tried to climb back into it.

“I thought Adam’s shot selection was better than at Conway,” Bridges said of the Arkansas State-bound Sterrenberg. “He got a lot of good midrange shots that went in and out. There’s no one more frustrated than Adam Sterrenberg. He’ll be back. His teammates believe in him and his coach believes in him.”

The Panthers took good care of the ball, committing only eight turnovers, and they made nearly 50 percent of their shots (21 of 45), but Central made 20 of 36 from the field and knocked down 17 of 31 free throws to Cabot’s 4 of 14.

Monroe, Alex Baker and Sterrenberg added eight points each. Besides Johnson’s 22, Bridges’ three-pointer was the only other points for Cabot. Johnson led the Panthers with four rebounds. Sterrenberg added four steals.

“Central was a different team than what we saw on film,” Bridges said. “They came out in a man-to-man and hooked up with us and we didn’t do a good job of being disciplined or giving our offense a chance to work. But this team will be fine. We’ve just got to take our practices to the games.”

Washington had 16 and Ekeh 11 for Central. Cabot tried to bounce back at home against Cabot last night in a game played after Leader deadlines.