By Thomas Sellers Jr.
MEMPHIS – Maybe it was the effects of the recent frightful weather, travel-weary legs or Christmas fatigue.
Whatever the case was last Thursday in the St. Benedict Gymnasium, the Millington Trojans only scored 15 points in the first half against the Holy Innocent Bears out of Georgia. And trailing 23-15, it appeared the Trojans were primed for a spot in the St. Benedict Holiday Tournament loser’s bracket.
But a heart-to-heart from Head Coach Rob Sabau during halftime and steady instructions from Assistant Coach Aaron Hudson throughout the second half to run helped Millington to come back and prevail 53-45.
“Everything was slow and we were cold,” Millington point guard Jerick Newsome said. “We weren’t knocking any shots down and they were beating us to everything.”
The Trojans other point guard Tevin Oliver remembered the speech from Coach Sabau being simple and to the point before leaving the locker room.
“We came out hustling,” the senior said. “Coach got into our tails and lit a fire under us. We knew we were better and that team so we played like it.”
The Bears scored an early bucket in the third that made the score 25-15. Then the Trojans proceeded with a 16-2 run to take a 31-27 lead.
The rally started with a pair of El Paso Johnson free throws. Then Newsome went on the attack driving to the basket for a layup that made the score 25-19.
Johnson displayed his shooting touch moments later draining a three-pointer that made the score 27-23 in favor of the Bears.
Millington cut the deficit in half seconds later when guard Kelby Hollowell drove the lane and attracted three defenders leaving his teammate Johnathan Patterson open on the baseline. Hollowell fired a pass to Patterson for a lay-in.
With Hudson shouting “Run,” and instructions on the press, the Trojans were able to force a steal. And Millington senior guard Willie Mudbone rewarded the team defense with a layup that made the score 27-27.
“We were trying to win this game,” Newsome said. “So we did what coach said. We listened.”
Johnson gave the Trojans the lead with a foul shot. Then Hollowell extended the lead with a triple. With points from Mudbone, Oliver, Kendrick Carter and Antonio Webber down the stretch, Millington was ahead 38-29 entering the fourth quarter.
Oliver made the advantage double figures in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter with a pull-up jumper. Then the Bears responded with a 12-4 run to make the score 44-41 in favor of the Trojans.
The only points for Millington during that time frame was a Webber to Carter layup and Jordan Browning jumper.
Millington didn’t score again until the 1 minute and 28 second mark when Newsome stepped to the line and hit a pair of foul shots.
With the Bears needing to foul to extend the game, the Trojans were prepared for the challenge of making foul shots to ice the game. Along with Newsome, Trojans Johnson and Hollowell hit free throws late in the period.
Johnson’s and Hollowell’s free-throw opportunities were made possible by the defense of Oliver. The defensive specialist grabbed a rebound on one missed free throw to create another possession.
And moments later he tipped a ball on a trap that landed in the hands of Hollowell.
“Coach always tells us not to show our hands in the first half,” Oliver said. “In the second half, we knew in our brains we had to do what we had to do. I turned it up in the end of the third quarter and fourth.”
Newsome said once the Trojans woke up they were ready to advance in the tournament. And it took the maturity of the season to execute the defense and make free throws down the stretch to win the opener.
“Today we knocked those free throws down,” he concluded. “Usually we don’t knock them down. Today everyone stepped up as a team and knocked free throws down. We won as a team. It feels good to still be in the winner’s bracket.”