By Thomas Sellers Jr.
For two and half seasons, Rob Sabau has led the Millington Trojans taking on District 14-3A competition in opposing gymnasiums.
During that stretch, the Trojans even had to play former district foe Raleigh-Egypt. But now Millington has to take on the likes of Bolton, Craigmont, Cordova, Arlington and Bartlett on the road.
Entering the Bartlett Gymnasium Friday night, Sabau was still winless in opposing gyms in league play. Minus starting senior point guard Jerick Newsome and center DeCarlos Holmes, it seemed the Trojans would have to wait another night to pick up a road win. Also out of the lineup was Roddarius Johnson.
But behind a total team effort, Millington walked out of the Bartlett Gymnasium 65-60 victors.
“It’s the first road win we’ve got in this league in I don’t know how — maybe three or four years,” Sabau said. “Who knows? But it’s good.”
Having to change his lineup, Sabau inserted senior guard Tevin Oliver into the starting rotation. Junior point guard Lakeron Garcia would see more minutes as well.
In the post to relieve Holmes, Trojans like Juvan Ballard, Jonathan Patterson and Kendrick Carter picked up the slick.
But it was the usual Millington go-to player El Paso Johnson helping the Trojans take a 15-12 first quarter lead. With his team behind 3-2 early, Johnson got ahead of the field and slammed down two points.
Panther guard Nathan Hoover drained a triple to regain the lead for Bartlett. Trailing 8-4, the Trojans used a tip-back dunk from Johnson and Oliver layup to tie the game.
With the Panthers ahead 10-9, Johnson nailed a three-pointer to give the Trojans a 12-10 lead. After Bartlett guard Eric Waddell made a layup to even up the game, Millington guard Kelby Hollowell concluded the opening quarter with a three-pointer.
It was Hollowell hitting another three-pointer in the second quarter that made the score 18-14 in favor of Millington. Bartlett responded with a 7-0 run to take a three-point advantage. Hoover hit the triple to put the Panthers ahead.
Millington recaptured the lead with a bucket from Antonio Webber and Carter. Those buckets were apart of a 9-2 Trojan run.
With Millington ahead 29-26 and time running out, Garcia found himself with the ball in his hand. The junior guard had to launch a triple before the buzzer. The ball swished through the net giving Millington a 32-26 halftime lead.
The Trojans came out hot in the third quarter using a 14-6 run to build a 14-point lead. Millington used buckets from Oliver, Johnson Willie Mudbone and Jordan Browning to make the score 46-32.
Browning snapped his cold shooting streak with a three-pointer making the tally 44-32. Then Johnson hit a fade-away jumper making Bartlett’s deficit 14.
Waddell snapped the Panthers’ drought with a three-pointer. Millington was ahead 48-37 entering the fourth quarter.
The Trojans nursed the lead throughout the fourth quarter. At the 5-minute and 14-second mark, Mudbone hit a three-pointer that made the score 55-43. Moments later Mudbone struck again with a triple that made the tally 58-46.
Waddell, who finished the night with 22 points, kept the Panthers within shouting distance with a trey making the score 58-51.
Browning, with his regained shooting touch, had an answer for Waddell with a floater in the lane. Then the junior guard hit a triple making the score 63-51.
Waddell wasn’t done yet hitting back-to-back threes making the score 63-57. Mudbone gave the Trojans some breathing room with a pair of foul shots.
With less than 30 seconds remaining, Hoover hit a three-pointer at the top of the key making the score 65-60. The Panthers missed a couple of opportunities to cut into the deficit before time ran out.
“We kind of had our backs to the wall with some tough losses,” Sabau noted. “And this team (Bartlett) has been playing pretty well. They’ve beaten Bolton and played everybody close. So they’re capable. So we just came in here and touched it out. We were short handed, missing a couple of regulars and a starter. We just gutted it out and got the job done. Everybody stepped up and played well.”
Halfway through the district schedule with wins over Arlington and Bartlett, Sabau said his team has shown the ability to be the top dog in the league.
“We’re definitely capable of being the best team in this league,” he concluded. “We’ve just got to go out and do it. I think we’ve got the most talent. But we haven’t been playing all that great. But we’ve still got time. It’s all about putting yourself in a good position for the playoffs. And playing your best ball in the playoffs.”