SPORTS >> Panthers fail on outside chances
Leader sports writer
VAN BUREN – Cabot’s normally solid outside shooting game never came together when the Panthers needed it the most as Fort Smith Northside beat the Panthers 44-31 in the first round of the 7A state tournament Wednesday.
Fort Smith Northside’s dominant senior post player and Missouri State signee Corey Copeland controlled the inside on both ends and Cabot struggled with a 31.4 field-goal percentage.
Copeland led the way for the Grizzlies with a game-high 21 points and eight rebounds, while Panthers sharpshooters Alex Baker and Darin Jones were held to seven points each.
“Oh, man, that second quarter, we just went cold,” Panthers coach Jerry Bridges said. “I’m going to give them credit — they did a good job on Baker. We rode that little fellow a long way.
“Those who have seen us play, that little sucker has put up some big numbers for us, and honestly, when we’re playing teams like that and beaten them, he’s shot well.”
Panthers senior post Christian Armstrong matched Copeland’s 6-3 height at, but the bulk and overall strength Armstrong surrendered made inside shooting and rebounding a challenge.
Armstrong battled his way to six points and three rebounds, most of which came in the second half.
“I wasn’t pleased with our interior game in the first half,” Bridges said. “I didn’t think they were aggressive. We’re used to being small, but I didn’t think we were as aggressive in the post as we wanted to be.”
All of Baker’s points for Cabot came in a competitive first quarter.
He scored the first points of the game when he was fouled from the three-point line and hit all three free throws to make it 3-0.
Baker added a pair of baskets in the last three minutes of the period and Jones added two free throws with 5:18 left in the first to help Cabot to a 9-8 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Junior Kai Davis was Cabot’s only double-digit scorer with 11 points, including the Panthers’ only three-pointers.
He hit his first three-pointer to start the second quarter to give Cabot a 12-8 lead, but those were the only points for the Panthers in the disastrous period until he made another three with 33 seconds left.
In that time, Copeland and junior forward Ian Carter went to work inside for the Grizzlies. Copeland scored on a putback with 1:34 left in the half and Carter scored off a steal less than a minute later to push the score to 22-12.
For seniors Baker, Armstrong, Seth Bloomberg, Patrick Martin, Karsten Powers and Jacob Ellerbee, it was their final game in a historic run of three-straight state tournament appearances. Prior to 2008, Cabot had not been to state in 31 years.
“We finished strong. I’m proud of these kids,” said Bridges, who this year had to replace scoring catalyst Daniel Sterrenberg, now at Arkansas State. “We lost 99.9 percent of our scoring. We had an inexperienced group, but they have a lot of pride, and the group of seniors didn’t want to be the group that started another streak of not being in the state tournament.
“I thought they did a great job of putting their stamp on the program. As far as I know in recent history with this sport at Cabot, there’s no group that can say they’ve been to state three years in a row.”