Define Toughness: Tomcats rip and claw Trojans for District 15-2A victory

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By Thomas Sellers Jr.

‘T’ is for turning point.
During the Jan. 12 District15-2A showdown between the Millington Trojans vs. Haywood Tomcats that turning point came early in the third quarter with the Tomcats ahead 36-27.
Millington Trojans Head Coach Jewell Gates remembers two opportunities for his team to complete three-point plays to cut into the Haywood advantage.
“Now you’re facing a deficit of 12 or 14 when it should have been 6 or 7,” Gates said. “If you go finish those off. When we go down and that to people, we hit them on their arm, they finish it off. They get three-points out of it instead of 1 point or zero. The other teams finish off those shots. That’s toughness. That’s all it is.”
Haywood’s lead grew to 46-33 by the end of the third quarter and the Tomcats proceeded to win the contest 64-45. The final result made Gates reiterate a ‘T’ word he’s been preaching to his Trojans since his arrival.
“Each time we play a basketball and if you’ve been around me for five years now, one word that I talk about that starts with a ‘T,’” he said. “That’s toughness. You’re not tough, you’re not going to win. Especially in this district — any district. But the one we’re in, you’re not tough it’s not just going to happen.
“And we’re not tough,” Gates continued. “We’re what the street calls ‘fake tough.’ You act like you’re tough but when it comes down to it, we can talk to me and say, ‘I’m going to make this rebound.’ ‘I’m going to catch this ball.’ ‘I’m going to make this layup.’ Once we get out there on that floor it’s like a different story. It’s just a different story.”
The Trojans, who haven’t seen action since Dec. 18, managed to match the pace of Haywood only trailing 17-14 after 8 minutes. The Tomcats jumped ahead 14-4. But Millington guard Seth Grandberry sparked a 10-3 Trojan run with a three-pointer. After a Grandberry jumper, his teammate Chris Barnes contacted on a triple to make the score 14-12.
The final basket of the quarter came courtesy of Grandberry. The junior guard started the second period with another bucket to make the tally 17-16. The Trojans remained close throughout the second quarter with Barnes, Diego Reyes and Blake Garner.
The scoreboard read 28-24 in favor of the Tomcats.
Haywood closed out the first half on a 8-2 run to build a double-digit lead at 36-26 at the break.
“We hadn’t played since Dec. 18 and that’s going to happen in this day and time,” Gates said. “They’re not a team around that’s going to play everyday and every night. It’s not something that’s going to happen. So when you are off and we finally get back into the gym, you have to be thirsty and hungry to play. Our thirst and hunger were not there tonight.”
The third quarter moments that could have helped the Trojans make the game closer were a continuation of trends throughout the night. Millington had 23 made baskets with a combination of field goals and free throws. But the Trojans had 24 turnovers throughout the contest.
“You can’t win that way on any level,” Gates concluded. “A lot of those turnovers came down to toughness.”
Haywood’s 46-33 lead through three quarters grew courtesy of Tomcats outscoring Millington 18-12 in the fourth quarter to prevail.