By Thomas Sellers Jr.
The best team in District 14-3A paid a visit to Millington on Jan. 28 trying to duplicate a 91-53 win from earlier in the month. But the Tigers found themselves in a tighter contest with the Trojans this time and were only ahead 15-13 after the first quarter.
Arlington created some separation, building a 31-17 halftime advantage. Then Rob Sabau’s Trojans came out the locker room with a rally to keep the game competitive.
But a questionable technical foul and a couple charge calls stopped Millington’s momentum leading to a 58-45 defeat.
“The first time we were taking quick shots or turning the ball over,” Sabau recalled of the Jan. 10 match up. “They’re starting to get it about how to play on offense. Defensively, they’re playing better. We’re getting better at rebounding playing a couple of bigger guys.
“The biggest thing is I think they’re starting to understand what a good shot and bad shot is,” he continued. “The last time we played them we’d jack up a quick shot. They would go down either get a layup, dunk or three.”
That wasn’t the case in Millington’s gymnasium during the rematch. The Tigers used a balanced attack with perimeter players like C.J. Anderson, Adarius Avery and Nathan Hoover to pace their offense. Then Arlington pounded the ball inside to forward Jonathan Bowlan.
The Trojans fell behind 13-5. Millington senior guard Roddarius Pitts had all 5 points. Then he nailed a three-pointer to make the score 13-8.
The next Trojan to chip into the scoring column was Julian Daughtry with a triple of his own. Millington tied the game at 13-13 moments later. Bowlan hit a shot at the buzzer to give Arlington a 15-13 lead heading into the second quarter.
Bowlan was the feature attraction in the second period scoring buckets and finding open teammates like Avery for a layup. That basket made the score 29-17.
Arlington received another buzzer beater when UMass signee Anderson nailed a jumper to make the tally 31-17. That shot led to Sabau challenging his team not to allow a repeat of the first game.
“They came out of the second half and responded real well,” he acknowledged. “If we get another shot at those guys, it will be here. If we play that game like we did in the second half, we’ll have a chance. I like our chances. I like the way we’re playing right now.”
After Arlington’s KJ Bates drove to the rim to make the score 35-19, the Trojans responded with a 14-4 run to cut the Tigers’ lead to single digits.
The run started with a Devynn Brandon free throw. Then Jordan Browning took over the game with 11 points.
After layups from Browning and Daughtry, it was time for long range bombs. Browning hit his first triple to make the score 37-27. Another Browning three-pointer made the score 39-30.
Then the senior took a heat-check shot attempting a three-pointer from the volleyball line hitting nothing but net to make the score 39-33.
With momentum swinging toward the Trojans, a foul was called near half court. And seconds later another whistle calling a tech on the Millington defender. Many fans on both sides were puzzled on the technical call.
The free throws by Hoover put Arlington back up 41-33. Then the momentum belonged to the Tigers for the remainder of the contest when Anderson hit a three-pointer at the buzzer.
Throughout the second half, Trojan standout Pitts was on the bench plagued by fouls. Twice he drove to the rim earlier in the game receiving charge calls.
Trying to help his team make another run, Pitts attacked the basket again. The Arlington defender in his way hit the deck and once again the whistle blew. Once again Pitts committed a foul.
Anderson closed out the game finding teammate Cody Hailstock for a three-pointer to make the score 52-38. Then Anderson added a layup leading to the 58-45 final.
Arlington remained atop the district standings approaching the upcoming tournament that will be held in Millington. With the postseason around the corner, Sabau said the second-half performance against Arlington makes him optimist.
“Our record is not where we want it to be,” he concluded. “But I’ve been telling them this all year, ‘Records don’t matter. It’s what we do in the playoffs.’ We’re trying to play our best ball come playoff time. And I think we’re getting there.”