By Thomas Sellers Jr.
He would either drive through the defense to locate an open teammate. Sometimes he would create room for a layup. And just like Saturday night for the final time in a Brighton Cardinal uniform, the senior guard would launch a three-pointer.
Cooper made his final shot as a Cardinal but the three-pointer wasn’t enough to over the Bartlett Panthers in the Region 7-3A Boys Basketball Tournament Quarterfinal. The Panthers escaped Brighton with a 57-55 victory in overtime to advance to the Regional Semifinals in Arlington.
“We were 10 of 22 from the free throw line,” Brighton Head Coach Stan Gatlin noted. “And several of those were the front end of a one-and-one. On top of that Taelyr only took three shots the whole game. He deferred a lot. I want him to be aggressive and assertive. And you can’t get mad when he’s deferring and you’re getting good shots.”
The younger Gatlin took to the floor battling the flu. The sophomore guard still helped the Cardinals have good shot selection early in the game.
Brighton’s good shots were falling in the first quarter helping the Cardinals jump ahead 8-0 in opening quarter. The Panthers closed the first quarter on a 6-0 run.
The second quarter began with a Cooper three-pointer to make the score 11-6. Brighton was ahead 20-10 after Gatlin threw down a one-hand slam.
Cardinal senior Colby Butler put his team ahead 25-13 late in the second quarter with a drive to the rim for a layup. Brighton led 25-14 at the break.
Bartlett outscored the Cardinals 19-12 in the third quarter to cut into the Brighton advantage. The Panthers hit four three-pointers in the period courtesy of Jefferson Walker, Jaylan Talley and Quentin Williams.
The Panthers created Brighton turnovers and forced several Cardinal misses.
“Those kind of mistakes are expected with a young team,” Gatlin said. “But we’ve been through the fire enough to not break down in crunch time like that. It boiled down to who wanted it the most, who was going to be more together, more efficient and more consistent doing the right stuff. We were just not consistent enough especially during crucial times.”
Bartlett was trailing 37-33 entering the fourth quarter. The Cardinals maintained the lead early in the final period of regulation with a Butler jumper and an Aaron Alston two-hand power dunk.
Brighton was ahead 46-39 after a Gatlin to Alston no-look pass for a layup. Bartlett closed out regulation on a 10-3 run to force overtime.
The highlight of Bartlett’s run was a three-point play by Talley to make the score 47-45 in favor of Brighton. Then Walker tied the game at 47-47 with a pair of foul shots.
In the final seconds of regulations, Brighton took the lead with an Alex Malone layup. On the very next possession, Williams raced down the floor for a layup tying the game at 49-49.
In overtime, the Panthers took the lead for good at 51-50 with a Williams floater in the lane. Bartlett was ahead 56-52 with 5.8 seconds remaining in overtime.
Cooper then hit his final shot to make the score 56-55 with a second left. Brighton’s foul allowed the Panthers to add one more point to the difference.
Bartlett’s win was a part of a District 14-3A sweep Saturday night with Cordova, Arlington and Bolton advancing to the Regional Semifinals Tuesday night.
The 2015-16 season came to an end for Brighton. And the high school careers of Butler and Cooper ended with a 19-11 record. The duo helped the Cardinals win 30 games in the past two seasons.
“It’s always a pleasure to coach young men like them,” Coach Gatlin said. “Those two young men have been through a lot in their high school careers. From winning 5 games their first two years and losing 47. Basketball ain’t fun when you’re losing like that. Basketball should be fun and we had an improvement last year doubling those wins.
“This year our goal was to get to 20,” he concluded. “We just fell short of making that happen. They were definitely a part of us setting higher goals. I’m glad they were able to have a winning season for the first time in their careers.”