By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Intensity and desire were equal between the Munford Cougars and Brighton Cardinals Friday night.
So what would make the difference in the District 13-3A showdown in the electrified Brighton Gymnasium. Cardinal sophomore guard Taelyr Gatlin said the key to the eventual 50-40 victory for Brighton was a simple strategy.
“We had to knock down open shots,” he said. “They’re were not giving it us. But when we got them, we had to knock them down.”
Munford’s defense and speed helped it take a 14-9 lead in the first quarter. But the Cardinals settled down and worked the offense of Head Coach Stan Gatlin leading to open shots. Brighton used a 12-2 run to start the second quarter.
The Cardinals maintained the advantage the rest of the contest leading to the 10-point victory.
It appeared after 8 minutes the Cougars were going to be the victorious team. Munford got buckets from Kelan Ivy, Alex Jones and Queyon Mills to build the 14-9 lead.
With the score tied at 9-9, Mills snatched a defensive rebound and raced down the court for a layup. Then Mills drained a triple giving Munford a 5-point lead heading into the second quarter.
Jones made the score 16-9 with the first basket of the second period. Cardinal guard Alex Malone answered with a jumper. That sparked the Brighton run in the quarter.
Cardinals to score during the 12-2 rally were Ethan Bell, Tramaine Cooper and Gatlin. With Brighton ahead 21-16, Deon Banks ended Munford’s drought with a hop-step layup.
The Cardinals closed out the first half with a Malone three-pointer and a Gatlin triple to make the score 27-18.
“We did a good job of pressuring their guys,” the elder Gatlin said. “We got behind the ball a lot in the first half. The ball was passed and we were arriving after the catch. We’re supposed to get there as the ball arrives or be there to get the steal. We were behind a lot in the first half.”
Brighton’s intensity on the defensive end appeared to slow down Munford’s offensive flow in the third quarter. The Cougars managed to cut the Brighton lead to 29-23 courtesy of an Alex Jones three-pointer. Gatlin replied to Jones’ triple with a trey of his own.
“Taelyr having a good shooting night keyed a lot of that,” Gatlin said. “He had been in a slump the last couple of games. He really shot the ball well tonight.”
The Cardinals were ahead 35-25 after the third quarter. Both teams tallied 15 points in the fourth quarter. Munford tried to rally behind the shooting of Domonique Bell. The senior guard scored 8 of the Cougars’ points in the final quarter.
But Brighton made their foul shots down the stretch to improve to 2-0 in league play. Gatlin had 20 points and Cooper added 10 points. Zach Lewis and Aaron Alston had 7 points each.
The Cougars were paced by Jones’ 9 points. Bell had 10 points and Mills led Munford with 13 points.