By Thomas Sellers Jr.
To say things were going well for the Brighton Cardinals at the beginning of the showdown against the rival Munford Cougars Jan. 21 would have been an understatement.
The 22-2 lead Brighton jumped out to early in the second quarter had the Brighton Gymnasium crowd buzzing. The Cardinal faithful were so confident, that the Brighton Cheerleaders broke out into the chant ‘You’ve Got to Want It, To Win It.’
Cardinals Head Coach Stan Gatlin knew after the Kejuan Dyson layup made the Munford deficit 20 points the game wasn’t over. Gatlin knows a bunch lead by Ryan Ross doesn’t quit and the veteran coach was also aware of the bad habit plaguing his team all season.
“It’s not anything I haven’t seen all year,” Gatlin acknowledged. “We keep doing the same thing all year. It’s about us not trusting to do what we’ve been told to do. I told our guards to make sure we take care of the basketball and use our press break.”
Munford’s pressure defense allowed the Cougars to claw back into the game making the halftime score 26-23 in favor of Brighton. After a TJ Buford basket, Munford held a 33-30 advantage in the third quarter.
But Brighton settled down and made enough plays down the stretch to prevail 57-47.
“We were not using our press break,” Gatlin noted. “We were throwing the ball everywhere. Anybody who had a jersey, we were throwing it to them. That’s not what we do. Until we figure it out, I was just sitting there watching.
“It doesn’t matter how many timeouts I blow and I am saying the same thing every timeout,” he added. “Then y’all going out there doing the same thing. If you’re going to take this lost or figure it out on your own. We figured it out and we did a better job of executing.”
Brighton’s executing in the first 10 minutes of the game was nearly flawless. Senior forward Anthony Smith got the scoring started with a triple. Then Munford big man Jayson Williams made a layup inside to make the score 3-2.
That would be the Cougars’ last basket until the second quarter. Meanwhile the Cardinals took flight with points from Smith, Demaryo Gatlin, Kyron Middlebrooks and Dyson. Smith had 10 points in the quarter helping Brighton establish a 17-2 lead.
The Cardinal lead grew to 20 points courtesy of a Dyson triple and layup. Ross called a timeout of his own to settle his team down and change the defensive approach.
The Cougars took Ross’ game plan and brought it to fruition over the next 6 minutes of the first half. Led by senior guard Buford, the Cougars created Brighton errors and turnovers leading to a 21-4 run to close out the first 16 minutes of action.
“We came out hustling,” Dyson said of the Cardinals. “I don’t know what changed it after that.
“When were down Coach Gatlin kept stressing to us we were not taking care of the ball,” he added. “We were lobbing it and he said we can’t do that. We had to change as team and come up. I had to step up as a leader and do what I had to do. We had to do what we had to.”
Munford kept the momentum flowing in the third quarter with a 10-4 run featuring a couple of timely three-pointers from Buford and D’Anthony Vann. The Cougars held a 33-30 advantage.
Smith stepped up as a senior leader for the Cardinals with a pair of free throws and a bucket inside to regain the lead.
Then Dyson made a steal leading to a layup and 36-33 lead. Cougar Michael Lee tied the game at 36-36 with a three-pointer. That would be the last deadlock of the game.
Dyson hit another timely shot this time stepping outside to nail a trey. Brighton held a 43-39 lead going into the fourth quarter.
The Cardinals won the final period 14-8 including a crucial technical foul call on the Munford bench that swung momentum.
Dyson said he has to a better job in the future so it won’t take a comeback or official’s call to decide the game in the favor of the Cardinals.
“What I learn from tonight, I have to stop my turnovers,” he acknowledged. “I have to stop lobbing the ball. I got be focused on what I am doing. I’ve got to stop a lot of my bad habits to be the leader he needs me to be.”
Gatlin said he hopes all his perimeter players get the memo before February becomes the shortest month of the basketball year.
“Our guards have to play better, it we don’t we won’t have a long season at all,” he concluded. “It’s going to be short.”