By Thomas Sellers Jr.
ARLINGTON — The shots were falling for both the Millington Trojans and Bartlett Panthers Friday night in the Arlington Gymnasium.
The opening round District 14-3A Basketball Tournament contest was tied at 10-10 midway in the first quarter. The Panthers then were ahead 18-12 after 8 minutes.
The Trojans trimmed the Bartlett advantage to 18-16 before an avalanche of Panther jumpers fell into the net. Meanwhile the Trojans hit a drought leading to a 79-67 victory for Bartlett.
Millington’s lapse in the second quarter was another sign of a young team growing. Experienced Panthers like Eric McGill and Jonathan Bowlan paced their team to a 16-0 run to make the score 34-16.
“This year was all about learning experience, about gaining experience,” Millington Head Coach Rob Sabau said. “I think that was one of our main problems, we didn’t have enough experience. We played a lot of young guys who had never played varsity before. Mentally and physically they were not probably ready for it.
“But we had to, we had no choice,” he added. “Hopefully it’s going to pay off next year. We lost a lot of close games in district. We had 7 that were close.”
Millington gave tough challenges to district foes Kingsbury, Bolton, Cordova, Arlington and Bartlett. The first Millington/Bartlett game came down to the wire on the Panthers’ home court in January.
The contest on the hardwood of Arlington appeared to be following a similar format. But Bowlan heated up in the second quarter with three triples to make the score 39-20.
Trojan standout guard Julian Daughtry ended Bowlan’s moment with a three-pointer of his own. Bartlett was ahead 48-25 at the break.
The Panthers maintain it’s sizable lead throughout the second half. The highlight of the night came from Trojan junior Kelvin Jones in the second half. The forward took to the air for a one-hand power slam over a Bartlett defender sending the Arlington Gymnasium crowd into a frenzy.
Despite that moment, the Panthers were ones celebrating advancing to the semifinals and earning a spot in this week’s Region 7-3A Tournament.
For the Trojans, it was the end of four eras. Millington will leave 3A basketball and move into the classification of Double A next year. And the program bid farewell to a trio of seniors who started playing as freshmen with Daughtry, Carlos Lipsey and Andrew Banks.
Sabau noted Lipsey is a great athlete playing basketball and soccer. He matured and was a hard worker for his program.
Banks hit the court with a high motor according to Sabau. The veteran coach noted Banks matured, became a better decision maker and was very coach-able.
Daughtry, who is receiving college looks and was named All-District First Team, leaves the program owner of one of the best seasons for a Trojan ever.
“He carried us a lot of games,” Sabau noted. “I feel bad for him that his senior year he had to play with a bunch of kids who were going through growing pains.
“But it’s like I told him, ‘Everything is for a reason,’” he added. “‘There’s a lot of good to find in this tough season.’ One of the best kids I’ve ever coached in my 16 years. He’ll be playing somewhere next year.”
As for next year, Sabau said the investment the Class of 2015 put into their younger teammates has the potential for great rewards soon.
“It’s tough for them right now and hopefully in the next year or two they’ll see that,” he concluded. “Hopefully the next month or two. But that could be their legacy that his team next year will go on to do good things. And then those seniors can say, ‘I help those kids out when they were sophomores and juniors to get better.’”