By Thomas Sellers Jr.
The Holiday Season is over and for the Millington Trojans the meat of their 2012-13 schedule is behind them.
After opening the season against home-school teams and some of the best in Memphis, the Trojans traveled all over the Mid-South for several games before stepping into District 14-3A play.
On Friday night, Millington finally had one of their tough holiday games at home with the MUS Owls paying a visit to the William Osteen Gymnasium. The Trojans fell behind by 12-point by halftime.
Millington fought back to make the score 30-29 in the fourth quarter. But the Owls pulled away outscoring the Trojans 31-24 down the stretch to win 61-53.
“You have to bring your A-game,” Millington Head Coach Rob Sabau noted. “That first half was some of the worst basketball I’ve seen in this gym in two years. That looked more like when they were sophomores. No energy and they didn’t play hard.
“We dug ourselves a whole and we bring it back,” he added. “But you expend so much energy having to come back that at the end you can’t make enough plays. That’s what kind of happened tonight. If we didn’t have to make up a 12-point deficit to start the second half, those mistakes wouldn’t have been as big of a deal. We can’t come out like that, especially in district.”
The Trojans were sluggish in the opening minutes of the game. MUS was ahead 6-2 when Trojan senior guard Kelby Hollowell drained a three-pointer. The Owls serged ahead 11-5 late in the opening quarter when Millington center DeCarlos Holmes scored on a put-back bucket.
Then Millington cut the deficit to 11-9 when point guard Jerick Newsome drove through the Owl’s defense and fired a pass to Hollowell as he cut to the basket for a layup. MUS had the final five points of the first quarter to take a 16-9 lead into the second quarter. The Trojans could only manage two Newsome baskets in the second quarter falling behind 25-13 at the break. MUS maintained a double-digit advantage at 29-19. Then Trojan forward El Paso Johnson made a layup to spark a 10-1 run for Millington to close out the third quarter and start the fourth period. When Johnson made a move to the basket and hit a difficult layup over two Owls early in the final quarter the score was 30-29 in favor of MUS. Then the Owls went on a 10-2 run to open up a 40-31 lead. Millington tried to rally behind 8 points from Hollowell. The senior sharp-shooter hit two triples that made the score 53-48 in favor of the Owls. Foul shots down the stretch helped MUS earn the victory.
The MUS game Friday and Briarcrest matchup Tuesday marked the end of the Holiday stretch for the Trojans that started Dec. 14 at Dyer County.
In that time period, Millington faced Division I prospects like Josh Jones, Robert Hubbs and Austin Nichols. The Trojans traveled from Dyer County to Murfreesboro and visited area gyms in Arlington and St. Benedict. Millington played teams like Memphis Central, CBHS, Riverdale, Blackman, Brentwood and Holy Innocent out of Atlanta.
“If I’m giving them a letter grade like they get in school, it would be a C,” Sabau said of his team’s grade after that stretch. “We played one of the tougher schedules out there. And most of those tough games have been on the road. We competed in just about every one of those games and had chances to win a lot them.
“We’re missing key players at certain times for different things,” he added. “We haven’t had our whole team together but a handful of games. It’s like we’re still trying to figure out who we are and how to play with each other. We’re halfway through the season. Those are things you normally figure out the first few games.”
Sabau said facing those quality teams will help them against Arlington, Craigmont, Bolton, Cordova and Bartlett.
“We played a tough schedule and that was by designed to get us more ready for district this year,” he said. “We have less wins than we had at this point last year. But if the end result is better than last year, I don’t care. If this makes us more ready for district, I don’t care.”
Millington got a taste of district in the St. Benedict Holiday Tournament final playing Bolton. The Trojans dropped the championship game in overtime. With December in the history book and nothing but district games in their future besides a visit from rival Munford this Saturday night, Sabau said his senior-loaded team needs to realize how much time is left.
“After tonight we only have 13 games guranteed,” he said. “For 10 of the kids in this locker room, their high school careers are done. I don’t know if that is setting in with them. It didn’t tonight.”
Sabau said the Millington coaching staff will drill the importance of January and February into their heads.
“It’s something we have to instill in them and preach to them,” he said. “But they have to buy into it. If they don’t buy into it and we don’t come together as a team soon, we’re going to run out of time. I would hate for that to happen to them their senior year.
“We just played our fourth Dandy Dozen team this year,” Sabau concluded. “We played probably the best team in Middle Tennessee in Blackman. Basically in their gym. At what point do we get it. Hopefully soon, because unfortunately we’re running out of time.”