Leader Blues

Monday, November 23, 2009

SPORTS >> Cabot boys tip off season, top Searcy

Cabot's Darin Jones drives past Searcy's Jamal Jones at Panther Pavillion.


Leader sportswriter

Cabot didn’t get very many looks, especially in the second half.

But the Panthers made the most of their few opportunities by shooting 60 percent in the final two periods to outlast the Searcy Lions 47-42 in their season opener at Panther Pavilion on Tuesday night.

The Lions (0-1) rallied from deficits numerous times in the defensive struggle, but were hampered by foul trouble in the second half, including five personals each for forwards Jamal Jones and Chris Blakely.

“To be honest, I thought they might be the favored team coming in,” said Panthers coach Jerry Bridges, who led his team to the 7A state semifinals last year. “That’s a good basketball team, and they’re only going to get better. It’s the exact same team they had last year. They played us a close one then, and you know what we had last year.”

Both teams had trouble finding their way to the basket, which resulted in 49 shot attempts for the entire game. The Panthers (1-0) went 12 of 23 for the game and 6 of 10 in the second half.

The biggest difference for Cabot was the first-half location.

Senior guard Alex Baker showed off his outside shooting skills in the first two quarters, making 3 of 4 three-pointers for nine of his game-leading 26 points.

Baker started the game with a three-pointer with 6:33 left in the first quarter for half of his points as the Panthers went 4 of 5 on three-pointers in the first half.

“That didn’t surprise us any,” Bridges said. “We believe Baker can do that every night — that wasn’t a fluke. But he has teammates feeding him the ball. That’s one thing I like about this team is that they have chemistry.

“Every kid contributed at some point, and we had good shooting as a team.”

Two of those shots by Baker came in the first 2:33 of the second quarter as part of an 8-0 Cabot run that gave the Panthers an 18-11 lead. Searcy junior Casey Wilmath cut it to 18-14 with a three-pointer, but Baker answered.

Wilmath led the Lions with 23 points, most of which came at the free-throw line. He closed out the first half with back-to-back trips to the line to pull Searcy to within 22-18 at the break. Of Wilmath’s 23 points, only eight came from the floor, but his 15-of-15 free-throw shooting helped keep the Lions in the game.

Searcy junior Jamal Jones was the only player on either side capable of penetrating for inside points. Jones put up a pair of baskets in the first quarter but sat out most of the second after picking up three quick fouls.

But the Lions made their strongest charge of the game behind the 6-5 junior to start the second half. Jones scored inside with 6:56 left in the third quarter to pull Searcy within two, and he tied it just over a minute later with a pair of free throws.

Cabot’s Kai Davis put the Panthers back on top with an inside shot before Darin Jones extended the lead with an assist from Martin to make it 26-22 with 4:55 left in the quarter.

As was the case the entire night, the Lions did not allow the Panthers to have momentum very long.

Jones cut the lead to one after a steal and assist from Wilmath led to a shot and free throw with 4:01 left, but Jones’ time in the game was short lived when he picked up his fourth foul with 1:21 left in the third.

The officials then whistled Jones for a technical foul, and Davis hit both free throws to complete a 7-0 Cabot run and give the Panthers their biggest lead, 33-25, heading into the final period.

“We have a lot of room for improvement,” Bridges said. “There are some great opportunities for teaching efforts both good and bad. We had too many turnovers, and I thought that was mostly due to a lack of concentration.”

Searcy was 8 of 26 and edged Cabot in rebounding 15-14.

Wilmath added five assists and three steals for the Lions. Jones finished with nine points and both teams had 15 turnovers.

Senior post player Christian Armstrong added seven points for Cabot and was 5 of 10 at the free-throw line. Martin added six points for the Panthers.

Cabot will play at Pine Bluff on Monday, while Searcy will travel to Batesville.