Friday night’s Class 7A basketball state championship game in Hot Springs featured a pair of future SEC athletes.
Arkansas football commit Jarrod Barnes helped Cabot beat Kentucky signee Malik Monk and Bentonville 59-49 capture the Panthers’ first basketball state title.
Barnes scored 14 of his team-high 17 points in the fourth quarter, during which Cabot used a 15-2 run to put away the Tigers.
“When he gets to scoring points like that, man, you just sort of sit back and let him play,” Cabot basketball coach Jerry Bridges said. “That was an incredible fourth quarter by him and his teammates.”
During the Panthers’ 15-2 run, Barnes made a three-pointer to tie the game and got a put-back to give Cabot a lead. He then capped the run with another three-pointer that extended Cabot’s lead to nine points.
Bentonville never recovered and Monk finished with 19 points on 8-of-24 shooting, including 0-of-10 from three-point range.
Part of Monk’s struggles on offense can be attributed to Barnes, who matched up with him on defense.
“I challenged (Barnes), ‘We have to be able to contain Malik to an extent. We have to make him work,’” Bridges said. “He accepted that challenge and I really thought he did a good job defending Malik.
“Malik didn’t have one of his better shooting nights and a lot of that had to do with Jarrod.”
Bridges said that he felt like Barnes took it upon himself to beat Monk for the entire Arkansas fan base.
“Jarrod is excited about being a Razorback and he’s taken pride in that,” Bridges said. “I honestly think he took it a little personal, ‘I’m going to Arkansas. He’s going to Kentucky.’ That’s just the competitive nature of Jarrod.”
Winning a state title was a fitting way to end the season for Barnes, who was offered by Arkansas on Feb. 11 and committed a week later.
In fact, Bridges said he thought the offer propelled him to have an even better season, as he started practicing even harder.
“I think he knows he’s in the spotlight a little bit more and it’s important that he carries himself in a positive way,” Bridges said. “He wins the sprints all the time now, instead of just doing enough to get by.
“It took him a little while to realize, ‘I guess I’m really this good,’ if you want to know the truth. I think now he realizes he has an opportunity.”
Now that basketball season is over, Barnes will split his time between football and basketball offseason workouts.
Despite most kids specializing in one sport these days, Bridges said playing both sports at Cabot will help him at the next level because he’ll know how to compete.
“He better be ready to compete year-round because when he gets up there, there’s going to be two, three, four or five Jarrods out there,” Barnes said. “He better learn how to compete on a daily basis.”
Football is clearly Barnes’ best sport, but he also enjoys playing basketball, where he can better showcase his athleticism.
During the championship game, Barnes nearly blocked a layup by Monk, but the ball bounced off the backboard and went in.
Fayetteville’s Payton Willis, a Vanderbilt signee, wasn’t so lucky earlier in the year.
“Willis thought he had a breakaway dunk and (Barnes) threw that up in the top row,” Bridges said. “Those are two great players. He has the athleticism they have and the only reason people don’t know that is because he’s at Cabot.”
Bridges has been a basketball coach for many years – winning state titles at Caddo Hills and Morrilton in 1990 and 1991, respectively – and admittedly doesn’t know as much about football, but he said he knows Barnes has what it takes to be successful on the gridiron in the SEC.
“I know his 40-yard (dash) may not be off the charts, but let me tell you what is off the charts,” Bridges said. “When he’s going straight and he cuts to the right, he does not lose a step. His cut and acceleration is incredible.
“He’s athletic as heck. He’ll wow you.”