By Thomas Sellers Jr.
CORDOVA — The scenario was simple for the Arlington Tigers and Millington Trojans Friday night in the first round game of District 14-3A Boys Basketball Tournament.
The winner of the game would advance to the next round to play the No. 1 seeded Craigmont Chiefs. The loser of the contest would see an end to their 2012-13 season.
With those options facing them, the Arlington Tigers adopted one of the oldest rally cries in sports.
“We were focused on one game and one game only,” Tiger forward Rhyan Townes said. “That was our mindset, ‘Win or go home.’ We focused at practice and had a good practice yesterday. We turned it one today.”
The Tigers jumped out a big lead and withstood two Millington rallies to prevail 67-57.
“They showed tremendous heart,” Millington Head Coach Rob Sabau said of his team. “They have all year. It hasn’t been a question of playing hard or our desire. It’s just been a tough year. It just hasn’t worked out.
“A lot of things you wouldn’t expect to happen, injuries, kids not doing the right thing off the court costing them a few games here and there,” he added. “We only had one kid who played every game this year, that was Jordan Browning.”
Entering the elimination game against Arlington, Millington could only get limited use out of defensive specialist Tevin Oliver. In the two regular-season games, Oliver helped shutdown the Arlington duo of Towns and Bates by hawking them on the perimeter.
In the district tournament game, Oliver only played a few minutes in the first half. During that stretch the Tigers built a 19-7 first quarter lead. Townes started things for the Tigers with a three-pointer. Later in the opening quarter Townes hit another triple to make the score 16-4.
After Trojan guard Jerick Newsome hit a layup in the lane for a three-point play, Bates concluded the first quarter attempting a three-pointer. He was fouled and the guard hit all three foul shots to make Millington’s deficit 12 points.
The Trojans trailed by as much as 23-7 in the second quarter. After the Tigers took a 26-11 lead, Trojan guard Kelby Hollowell sparked a comeback for his squad.
The senior scored Millington’s 10th and 11th points. Then he nailed a three-pointer that started a 13-0 run. Behind 26-14, Hollowell got the ball at the top of the key and used a dribble move to spilt the Arlington defense for a tough layup.
Millington made the deficit single digits when Newsome fired a laser to teammate Kendrick Carter for a layup. After Trojan junior guard LaKeron Garcia hit a layup to make the scoreboard read 26-20, Millington senior ‘big man’ took over in the post.
DeCarlos Holmes used his 6’8 frame to score one bucket in the paint. Moments laters, he caught a lob pass and stepped back for a jumper to make the score 26-24.
“We had to lock up on defense,” Townes said. “They started hitting good shots. We started turning the ball over and taking bad shots. We had to get focused back into our game.”
The Tigers did for the final 3 minutes of the half holding the Trojans scoreless. Meanwhile Arlington guard Justin Boring hit back-to back buckets to help the Tigers take a 32-24 lead into the locker room.
Arlington regrouped offensively earlier in the third quarter once again building a double-digit advantage. The Tigers exited the third period ahead 49-39.
Then it was Hollowell again who lit the flame for his team this time in the fourth quarter. The senior sharpshooter drove to the rim for a layup making the score 49-41. That was the start of a 9-2 Millington run.
Townes had the only bucket for the Tigers during that stretch. Trojan guard Willie Mudbone had three points for Millington. When his teammate El Paso Johnson hit a layup in the lane the score was 51-48 in favor of the Tigers.
For the next few minutes the Trojans kept the deficit within striking distance trailing by as much as five points and cutting the lead to a bucket.
Behind 58-55, the Trojans watched Boring hit a pair of foul shots to make the score 60-55 with 40.3 seconds remaining. The Trojans tried again to cut into a five-point deficit. But a turnover led to a Bates dunk at the other end.
“I felt like we were going home with a win,” Townes said after he watched the slam. “It’s really relieving because we’ve had an up and down season. And we come back at the end to really collect ourselves and play as a team.”
The Tigers iced the game from the line going 18 of 19 for the 32 minutes. Arlington advanced and earned a spot in the Region 7-3A Tournament.
“I definitely think we can go to State this year,” Townes concluded. “That’s our goal. We’ve just got to take it one game at a time.”
The 2012-13 season has ran out of games for the Trojans.
“Just a tough year,” Sabau said. “We had a lot of adversity. Some our own making, some now. I can’t really explain it but it just didn’t work out the way we wanted it to. It never was a desire thing. Tonight from the start they played hard. They got down and fought back twice. We just came up a few plays short.”
Sabau’s fourth year at Millington and third as varsity coach came to a disappointing end. Since the day Sabau arrived to Flag City, he had eight seniors of his 10 with him.
“The biggest thing I’m going to remember is the eight guys that stayed on the team from freshmen to now, all eight of them are going to graduate,” he said. “Everyone of them, they’re all good kids and I know they’re going to go on to do great things.
“I know they’re all going to go on in whatever they decide to do in life,” Sabau concluded, “they’re going to be great at it. I just hope I taught them a little something about work ethic and teamwork that will contribute to the success they’re going to have.”