SPORTS >> Panthers fan tourney flames
By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor
There were no head coaches in sight when Cabot and Bryant tipped off in a 7A-Central boys game at Cabot on Friday.
Not that there wasn’t a lot of coaching to be done.
Cabot, led by assistant Mike Tucker, denied Bryant a trip to the state tournament and enhanced its own chances with a 37-33 victory.
Panthers junior Darin Jones hit a three-pointer from the left corner with 2:53 left to break a 31-31 tie, and Cabot stayed in front to eliminate Bryant, led by interim coach Ron Marvel, from postseason contention.
Tucker was filling in for suspended Cabot coach Jerry Bridges, who by rules had to sit out because he drew two technical fouls and an automatic ejection in the Panthers’ previous game at Little Rock Central.
But Tucker is a veteran who spent 19 years as head coach of North Little Rock’s girls.
“I’ve been at this a long time,” Tucker said. “I’ve coached in a lot of basketball games. And I’m real proud of them tonight; they did an excellent job. Especially when you’ve got a guy like coach Marvel, who is a legend in his own self, coaching over there.”
Marvel, the long-time women’s coach at Central Arkansas University, stepped in this season when the Bryant job became vacant and the school didn’t have time to mount a search.
“Tonight was for the trip to the state tournament obviously,” Marvel said after the Hornets fell to 6-16, 2-10. “If they beat us we’re eliminated. That put them in a pretty good position to go, and they will go, so it was a big game.
“We didn’t execute real well. We played hard; we stayed in the ballgame obviously. We had a couple chances to tie the ballgame up, couldn’t knock the shot down. It’s kind of been the story of our season.”
While Bryant will miss the state tournament, Cabot (10-13, 4-8) kept its postseason hopes alive.
“That gives us four,” Tucker said. “One more victory would assure us of being in the state tournament. But we had to win tonight.”
Cabot led 31-25 on Alex Baker’s baseline jumper with 5:31 left in the game, but after the Panthers threw it away on a bad pass, Brandon Parish made a three-pointer from the right wing with 4:00 to go, and he tied it with another three-pointer on the Hornets’ next possession.
Jones hit his go-ahead shot for Cabot, but Parish, the only Bryant player to score in the fourth quarter, came back with a jumper from the top of the key to pull the Hornets within 34-33 with 1:20 to go.
K-Ron Lairy fouled Baker, who made both free throws for the 36-33 lead with 26.3 seconds left.
Cabot’s Christian Armstrong missed a free throw after a Parish foul, and then Cabot fouled to force Bryant to inbound the ball with 7.3 seconds left. Dontay Renuard’s three-pointer caromed out and Jones got the rebound, then made a free throw with 2.6 seconds left for the final margin.
“We spread the floor on them a little bit and we were closer to the bonus situation than they were and we had some fouls to give,” Tucker said of his late-game strategy. “I felt like if we could spread the floor and get some opportunities to get into the lane that we could pick up some fouls.”
“It just came down to mistakes,” Marvel said. “We made some mistakes at crucial times. It just happened to get us at the wrong time.”
Marvel praised his players for the way they responded to him this season and promised Bryant would play out its remaining games with effort.
“The kids adjusted fine and I’ve enjoyed the kids,” Marvel said. “They’ve been a pleasure to work with. We’ve got two more ballgames and we’re going to go play those and I told them if we lost them all we’re going to try to win the last one so we’re still going to try to win the next one.”
Jones made four three-pointers and got the rest of his points on free throws to finish with 19. Parish led Bryant with 16 points, with four coming on three-pointers.
The biggest lead for either team was six points. Bryant was up 19-13 in the second quarter and took a 20-16 halftime lead and Cabot held its 31-25 lead before Bryant fought back to tie in the fourth quarter.
“When you’re at home you’ve got to control the tempo, which we did,” Tucker said. “We kept the game at a low score and tried to keep the last possession, tried to keep the ball in our hands to the end.”