By Thomas Sellers Jr.
“Shoot it again!”
Standing behind the arch along the baseline, Millington Lady Trojan Keria McGhee heeded the words of her Head Coach Jason Nichols during the final moments of the third quarter.
McGhee released the three-point attempt that barely touched the net as it went through the cylinder. The triple gave Millington the momentum it needed during the District 15-2A Tournament First Round game.
That shot made the tally 51-44. McGhee added another three-pointer to close out the period and the Lady Trojans proceeded to take the game 72-60 to advance to the District 15-2A Semifinals and earn a spot in the upcoming Regional Tournament.
“First time as a head, I’ve been there several times as an assistant – at least a good 10 times with Manassas and Central,” Nichols noted. “I just give all the praises to God and the girls. I’ve fussed at them a lot but they handled it. Tonight was a win for the high school, city of Millington and especially my girls.”
The Lady Tigers forced Nichols to be more intense pushing his Lady Trojans throughout the first three quarters.
“He added pieces and then he cut some pieces to add some good pieces,” he said. “I was impressed with what they did. You could tell once we wanted to make that run, it was nothing they could do about it. My guards locked in, junior leadership with Bonner, Micaiah and Keria and Richardson. They feed off each other.”
Jerilyn Richardson, Micaiah Halliburton, Jontavia Bonner and McGhee had to match Bolivar shot for shot in the first half.
Bolivar held a 20-16 lead after one quarter. Lady Tiger Carley Daniels kept her team close throughout the first half with Millington holding a narrow halftime advantage.
The third quarter was a tight affair untilRichardson broke the 44-44 deadlock with a free throw it was McGhee time.
The guard drilled a trey from the baseline to make the score 48-44. Moments later after the Lady Trojan defense created a turnover, McGhee found herself with the ball in her hand. After a little encouragement from Coach, she hit another three-pointer.
And before the third-quarter buzzer, McGhee gave Millington a 54-44 advantage with a three-pointer.
“McGhee hit about 4 in row,” Nichols said. “That was big because it was back and forth. Then she hit those two big threes that put us over the top. I knew coming in, not to sound aggorgant, No. 2 and No. 0 understood what playoff basketball was all about coming from their previous school. I am proud of the girls and its all about the girls right now. I’m so proud of them.”
McGhee was surprised by her efforts in the third quarter.
“I don’t know what happened,” she said. “ guess I got in a zone. I never make that many shots. It pushed the lead further and it turned our intensity up. We played much harder, everything just changed.”
In the fourth period Millington maintained its lead behind the leadership of Halliburton. The junior guard hit another three-pointer and sparked the defense to keep Bolivar at bay.
“It feels great with us getting the program back, better,” Halliburton said. “We haven’t been to Regionals in a long time. Its a great feeling to be going to Regionals.”
For the past two season Halliburton has emerged as the face of the program with former coaches Bruce Marshall and Nic Buford trusting her with the basketball.
Nichols said he saw that potential in her as well.
“She thriving with it,” he said. “At first it was rocking but now we’re on the same page and it’s getting better.”
Halliburton said she is embracing the role and is gaining more confidence with each game.
“It made a better player and a better leader because people have been talking about me being a leader on the floor,” she said. “He had been showing me instead of telling me. It’s been my action. He said I need a leader and I just stepped up and we’re on top.”
The next round for the Lady Trojans is a rematch with the top seeded Covington Lady Chargers. Covington was victorious in both contest.
“Play as hard as we can and start the game off right – early,” McGhee said. “We have to stay together and stay focused.”
“We’ve got to come out quick and stay aggressive for four quarters,” Halliburton added. “We would have two good quarters but not as good for a half. It’s going to take for us to be together the whole game.”