Maybe if high school games were 40 minutes long instead of 32, the Bartlett Panthers might be currently making plans for next week’s Class 3A Boys State Tournament in Murfreesboro.
But, instead, the Region 8-3A runner-up Whitehaven Tigers are heading off to the Elite Eight of the Tennessee after outlasting Bartlett 53-51 in the 2018 Sectional Round.
“Like I just told the guys, I am very, very proud of them,” Bartlett Head Coach Dion Real said. “So it is a good feeling as far as getting to that point.”
He continued, “They have just been working hard every single day. They worked very, very hard.”
Bartlett’s hard work paid off in a Region 7-3A championship last week, winning a test of endurance over the favored Cordova Wolves in four overtimes. The Panthers’ 82-73 victory earned them the Monday night showdown in B-Town with The Haven.
Both teams proved they belonged in the Sweet Sixteen with the Tigers nursing a 24-22 lead at halftime.
Then Whitehaven exploded in the third quarter with a 13-0 run to jump out 37-22. The Panthers ended their drought with a Takori Rooks foul shot. Bartlett closed out the third period outscoring Whitehaven 5-2 to make the tally 39-27.
The packed Bartlett Gymnasium was quiet entering the fourth period. The Panthers pumped some life into the Bartlett faithful with a 10-1 run. Jefferson Walker got the Panthers rolling with a layup to make the score 39-29. Jaylin Lucas and Sylvester Thompson hit buckets to make the tally 39-34.
After a Tiger foul shot, Bartlett received a pair of free throws from Wynne Brown. After Lucas drilled a foul shot, the scoreboard read 40-37 in favor of the Tigers.
All of sudden both sides of the gym became standing room only. The Tigers tried to use time-eating offense and make foul shots down the stretch to leave Bartlett victorious.
Meanwhile the Panthers kept the heat on by attacking the rim and kicking back out to the perimeter for three-point attempts.
The Tigers went 11 of 13 from the charity stripe in the final minutes of the game. In the final minute Bartlett stayed alive with a three-pointer from Walker to make the score 49-45. Moments later, Brown took a leaning triple, hitting nothing but net to make the score 50-48.
Whitehaven made three foul shots to make the tally 53-48 with about 10 seconds left in the game. The Panthers raced down the court in desperation. Walker stepped up once again, hitting a clutch three-pointer to make the score 53-51.
But the clock was under 5 seconds when Walker’s triple came through the net. The clock ran out and the Tigers were dancing off to State.
As the Panther faithful applauded and saluted their 2017-18 Bartlett Basketball squad, the players headed to the locker room melancholy.
“It’s both sides of it,” Real said. “You’re very, very proud of those guys to experience that. An experience like that is a lifetime experience. But then you’re a little disappointed. Not in a guy, but as a group we didn’t get it.”
With a roster full of underclassmen, Real said the 2017-18 season’s true legacy might be written years from now.
“Hoping this is just the beginning of years and years to come of great basketball,” he concluded.