By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY
Heber Springs couldn’t overcome Central Arkansas Christian’s 8-0 scoring run at the start of the fourth quarter as the Panthers lost their basketball season opener 52-46 to the Mustangs at the Panther Den Thursday.
CAC held a 38-37 lead going into the fourth quarter. Andrew Haughaboo started CAC’s scoring run by making back-to-back 3-pointers. Karsen Richard connected on a jumper, increasing the lead to 46-37 with five minutes to go.
J.T. Spear, who transferred from CAC to Heber Springs this year, pulled the Panthers within 46-40 by making a 3-pointer. The Panthers never pulled closer.
“We were winded at the beginning of the fourth quarter and let No. 3 (Andrew Haughaboo) get loose for 3-point shots,” Heber Springs coach Dusty West said. “The 3-pointers separated us. We kept battling and adjusting to CAC’s defense, and they were resilient and played with a lot of pride.”
Bauer Pruitt, Logan Monahan and Ryan Crocker each scored 11 points for the Panthers. Haughaboo (19 points) and Richard (16 points) scored 35 of CAC’s 52 points.
“Three guys scored in double figures and for the first game, that was encouraging,” West said. “We had great effort and kept competing. I told the players if we kept doing that, we would have a chance to win in the fourth quarter.”
Monahan and Crocker are the only two Panthers who played last year. West said those players’ experience benefitted the team.
“A senior point guard (Monahan) is important,” West said. “Logan can take control and doesn’t let the pressure get to him. We have a lot of positives. We started three sophomores (Pruitt, Spear and Bent McClain), and they played well.”
Heber Springs trailed 10-8 midway through the first quarter. CAC went on an 8-0 lead before Monahan made a 3-pointer as the Panthers trailed 18-11 going into the second quarter.
The Mustangs maintained the lead throughout the second quarter. Heber Springs trailed 24-18, but made a move late in the first half. Crocker started the scoring run with a 3-pointer and McClain had a field reducing CAC’s lead to 24-23.
The Mustangs increased the lead to 28-23, but Spear pulled the Panthers within two points on a 3-pointer by halftime, 28-26.
Heber Springs took the early in the third quarter, 32-31, on 3-pointers by McClain and Crocker. CAC regained the lead until Pruitt’s 3-pointer gave the Panthers a 37-36 advantage late in the third quarter. Haughaboo made 2-of-2 free throws as CAC led 38-37 going into the fourth quarter.
West also liked the crowd support for the first home game.
“We had a great student section and a loud crowd,” he said. “The team gained confidence. We had a lot of new faces, and we will get a few more players from football. We are excited to get those guys because they will make us better. But we need to get to the free-throw line more. We only shot seven free throws. This team has a lot of potential.”
Heber Springs will host Batesville in a nonconference game Tuesday.
CAC 18 10 10 14–52
Heber Springs 11 15 11 9–46
CAC scorers — Andrew Haughaboo 19, Karsen Richard 16, Levi Smith 9, Jeff Gilbrech 4, Jack Devitt 3, Eli Echols 1.
Heber Springs scorers — Bauer Pruitt 11, Logan Monahan 11, Ryan Crocker 11, J.T. Spear 8, Bent McClain 4, Harley Bresnahan 1.