Marion completes season sweep of Cabot
By Chuck Livingston Sports Editor
In his office immediately following his team’s 66-61 win against Cabot at Patriot Arena, Marion’s Irving Clay had a simple statement. “It’s about time we won a game at home,” said the 11th-year head coach. Indeed, Marion had lost three straight games at Patriot Arena prior to last night’s victory, dating back to a January 15 victory against Searcy. The win completed a season sweep of Cabot. Marion had previously won on the road in January by a 58-47 margin. The Pats had never swept the Panthers since the two became conference rivals in time for the 2012-2013 season. Marion (11-9 overall, 6-3 7A/6A-East) got big nights from junior Shaun Doss and his 21 points and 10 rebounds, while senior guard A.J. Latham went for a game-high 22 points. Marlon Warren chipped in with 10 points of his own. Cabot (11-9 overall, 5-4 7A/6A-East) was led by Garrett Rowe’s 14 points, 13 from Bobby Joe Duncan and 10 from Hunter Southerland. Marion blew open a 25-24 halftime lead with a key 19-4 run in the third quarter, to lead by as many as 13 points, before settling for a 44-33 lead going to the fourth quarter. Once there, Marion survived eight turnovers, but overcame that by hitting six of eight shots from the field to close the win out. Marion was just 10 of 18 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter. That’s how Marion ended the game. The Patriots started the game with a new starting line-up of their usual backups, and though Marion trailed 11-8 after the first quarter, Clay was pleased with the effort of that crew. “I’m proud of our second-stringers tonight,” Clay explained. “I told them that you’re on a 6A basketball team, and you never know when we may need you, so this was a good test tonight with a 7A school. We still have high expectations and I still expect you to play just as well as some of the guys that play in front of you.” The reserves-turned-starting crew of Daylon Witt, Mike Davis, Ashton Mitchell, Elisha Hobbs and LeAunte Johnson hit the floor and limited Cabot to a four of 10 showing from the floor, while outrebounding the Panthers 7-4. Marion re-inserted their starters at the beginning of the second quarter and that group’s impact was felt immediately as Doss scored six quick points, the last of which tied the game at 16-all with 2:59 left in the half. Latham would score five straight points to stake Marion to a 21-19 lead late in the half before the hosts claimed that 25-24 advantage at the break. The third quarter was identified by Clay as a crucial period for his team’s chances, and much to his delight, Marion responded. Following a Matt Stanley three-point play that gave Cabot a 27-25 lead early in the quarter, Marion took off on that decisive run. Following Stanley’s lay-up, Cabot only made one more field goal in the quarter, while Marion sank seven of 13 from the floor in that span. The Pats also forced five turnovers, leading to transition opportunities for Marion, including a pair of dunks by Doss. When Latham canned a three-pointer with 2:38 left which gave Marion a 41-31 lead, Cabot had to burn a timeout. “We talked about how basketball games are won or lost in the third quarter,” explained Clay. “We were able to get out and run. They missed some shots, we were able to get out and run. We called ‘Sideline’ which is an out-of-bounds play that we run and it worked to perfection. So that gave some kids some more confidence.” Marion led 44-33 entering the fourth, but Cabot wasn’t done. The Panthers turned the heat up on the Pats in the fourth quarter, throwing a full-court press at Marion, which paid off with a pair of Duncan steals and lay-ups, which got Cabot within 48-41 and 6:13 still on the clock. Cabot would get within five points on two occasions prior to the final score in the fourth quarter. “They didn’t quit, they didn’t give up,” Clay said. “You have to persevere out there. Turnovers kill you, especially when you turn it over in the backcourt and it leads immediately to a basket. We have to be strong with the ball.” Marion heads to Searcy on Friday night for their fourth game against 6A-East competition this season. The Pats are 2-1 with wins against Searcy at Mountain Home and a loss to Jonesboro. A win in Searcy would clinch a berth in the Class 6A state tournament. Marion will return home next Tuesday to play Mountain Home. Tip-off of both games is scheduled for 6 p.m.