By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Collierville Head Basketball Coach Jonathan Mooneyham gave his players a gentle reminder during timeouts to ‘Not give them hope.’
The them Mooneyham was referencing was the Millington Trojans. Last Tuesday night in the William Osteen Gymnasium, the Dragons jumped out to a 39-20 lead midway through the third quarter.
Then something clicked in the Trojans with Millington outscoring Collierville 19-5 to cut the deficit to 5 points in the fourth quarter.
A more passionate Mooneyham told his team, ‘You gave them hope.’ But the Dragons were able to extinguish the Trojans’ final attempts at a comeback victory with free throws down the stretch prevailing 55-48.
“It’s all in the mind,” Millington Head Coach Jewell Gates said of his team’s comeback. “It wasn’t anything physical. Fight — it’s just a mindset that you’ve go to go out and play as hard as you can. You have to give every ounce of energy you have and fight for this team, your brothers, for Millington Basketball. That’s the concept that maybe is new or different.
“I always talk about putting yourself in the backseat sort of speak,” he continued. “Just fight and get you one. Get back into the game, fight and shuffle. I’ll take this. I’m OK. I don’t like not winning, but I am OK. We showed who we were for a moment. To where we were down 15, 16, 17 and 19 then we chipped it down.”
The Dragons, behind the timely shooting of Zach Perrin, Jalen Lynn and CJ Barnes, methodically built a 32-17 halftime advantage.
Collierville started the third quarter on a 7-3 run to make its advantage 19 points, largest of the game. Then Trojan guard Hunter Klutts made a free throw that sparked a Millington 10-2 rally to close the period.
Trailing 41-30 to begin the fourth quarter, the Trojans used pressure defense on a Collierville inbound play for a steal. With a behind-the-back pass from the turnover, Faizon Fields gather the ball and made a layup that trimmed the deficit to 41-34.
A couple of minutes later and a Dragon triple, Klutts drained a three-pointer to make the score 44-37. Another steal created by the Millington defense led to a Fields basket making the tally 44-39.
“We didn’t get a rebound that was very important,” Gates recalled. “They got it and they capitalized on it. And then we got back on our heels because we didn’t get one offensive rebound. They got it. If we had gotten it, we might have turned the tide a little bit more.”
Lynn made his first free throw that made the score 45-39. Missing his second attempt, the Dragons were able to rebound the ball leading to Jabari Harris being fouled. Harris made the foul shots to make the tally 47-39.
The scoring was a seesaw affair down the stretch with Millington outscoring Collierville 9-8. The Dragons were able to hold on for the victory. But Gates took some satisfaction in seeing his players fight giving him an opportunity to teach them a life lesson postgame.
“That you never give in to anything or anyone, I even tell them don’t give in to me,” he said. “Because if you don’t give in to me, you seriously won’t give in to anybody else. I’m trying to get them to understand don’t ever give in to anything or anybody else.
“It’s going to be tough times in your life. It’s going to be tough times with your spouse,” Gates continued. “There’s even going to be tough times with your children. But you can’t give in to your spouse being mad. You have to get through that moment because you can’t leave her. You have her and the children to fight to get it back to where it supposed to be.”
Gates noted winning small battles in the game of basketball will hopefully be an asset for his players in adulthood.
“It’s the same thing we do out there on that court,” he noted. “We fighting a battle. Sometimes we’re fighting ourselves because of a turnover, a disappointment, a miss layup or a foul we didn’t need. You accept it, you stand up and you get back down that court and try to get that ball back.”
Coming back to challenge a good Collierville team, Gates said might be the turning point for his Trojans.
“I can see it in them,” he concluded. “I see it in spurts. We’re getting there. Whenever it comes, it’s going to be like an avalanche. It’s going to be so good when it comes.”