By Thomas Sellers Jr.
The Millington Trojans’ unofficial Rivalry Week began Tuesday night welcoming the new-look Tipton-Rosemark Academy Rebels.
With the Rebels led by new Head Coach Chris Anderson coming to the William Osteen Gymnasium first, the Trojans had the challenge of winning the Flag City Showdown before traveling up the road to take on the Brighton Cardinals Friday night.
TRA gave Millington all it could handle for 32 minutes. The Rebels were a quarter away from winning their first game in the rivalry ahead 44-41. Then the Trojans responded with clutch plays from players like Bobby Macklin, Mac Coulter, Faizon Fields and the Mattox Brothers of Bryce and Jonathan to pull out a 56-53 win.
“A little toughness finally… by certain people,” Millington Head Coach Jewell Gates said. “We’ve got a couple of key rebounds from Macklin and Coulter. We held the ball OK. We turned a couple of them over. But we handled it well enough down the stretch to pull out a win. That’s probably what we wouldn’t have down three weeks ago. I see the improvements. Just not as quickly as I want because I am a very impatient guy.”
It took patience from the Trojans and the coaching staff to pull out the win over TRA. The Rebels fell behind 15-7 after one quarter trying to adjust to the Millington defense.
The Trojans held TRA without a field goal until Carter Weakley drove to the basket for a layup at the 3:23 mark. Millington was ahead 11-5 behind the hot start of Hunter Klutts nailing a three-pointer and jumper.
The Trojans closed out the first quarter with a buckets by Coulter and Kaveyon Lewis to lead by 8 points.
The Rebels made a few adjustments in the second quarter to outscore Millington 18-8 to grab a 25-23 advantage at the break.
Ethan Stewart got the ball rolling for TRA with a pair of free throws and a layup to make the score 15-13. Klutts drained another triple to make the tally 18-13.
The Rebels closed out the first half on a 12-5 run. TRA players like Ryan Knight, Tysen Banks and Alex Anderson contributed the rally to make the score 25-20 in favor of TRA.
Jonathan Mattox closed out the second quarter with a three-point play. The two-point difference was a sign of things to come in the third quarter.
The teams traded baskets tying the game or making it a one-possession contest. Klutts deadlock the game at 32-32 midway through the period hitting a three-pointer. Moments later Klutts hit another three-pointer to give the Trojans a 35-32 advantage.
The Klutts 8-0 run concluded with a drive to the rim for a layup to make the score 37-32. Anderson snapped Klutts’ and the Trojans’ momentum with basket and foul for a three-point play.
After Anderson tied the game at 37-37, his teammate Banks made a reverse layup to regain the lead for TRA at 39-37.
The Rebels went ahead 41-37 after an Anderson stop-and-pop jumper. TRA guard Howard Gray hit a three-pointer giving the Rebels a 44-39 lead. The score was 44-41 heading into the final period after Macklin made a jumper for Millington.
Early in the fourth quarter the Trojans were ahead 45-44 courtesy of buckets by Jonathan and Klutts.
At the 6:41 mark Millington was looking to add to its lead when Klutts was on a breakaway. After a hard foul sent Klutts crashing to the ground, the guard popped up and went after the Rebels who caused the flagrant foul.
Klutts’ push caused his ejection. Both teams suffered technical fouls.
With their leading scorer out of the game, the Trojans found offense from players like Fields and Jonathan Mattox down the stretch to prevail victorious.
“Tonight showed a little toughness,” Gates said. “That’s a pretty good team over there on the other side. I will give them that. They’ve got a couple of shooters and a kid who can play ball in Alex Anderson. We didn’t beat a slouch. I think they’re going to be OK all season. We’ve got to learn how to do certain things a little better in order to control things. Right now our biggest problem right now we’ve got guys who are absent.”
Gates noted players like Taveon Collier, Rodney McGhee, Dylan Nix, Coryante “Thurl” Threlkeld and Cameron Craft have to show up when their number is called.
“If those four or five show up, we win this game by 20,” he said. “Not that I am saying anything bad about the team over there. But if those 5 absent guys who up, we win by 20 points.”
Gates said with the defending District 13-3A champions and Sectional representative Cardinals next on the schedule, the Trojans will need a total team effort to pull of an upset.
“Everybody putting on a Millington jersey Friday night must be mean and tough and ready to fight,” he concluded. “They may be a little bit better than we are. But the better team doesn’t always win. Normally the tougher team wins. That’s the Jewell Gates Philosophy. Friday night going to be another drag out battle. Another white knuckles battle. They are a good team, last year Sub-State.”