By Thomas Sellers Jr.
BARTLETT — The Munford Cougars had a tough task waiting for them Wednesday night for the Region 7-3A Boys Basketball Tournament Semifinals.
The Cougars led by first-year Head Coach Nic Buford made the trip from Tipton County to Bartlett to take on the District 14-3A champion Panthers. The District 13-3A runner up Cougars matched the intensity of the Panthers for the first 5 minutes.
But there came a period in the first half when Munford would launch a shot and the ball would rim out. Meanwhile Bartlett nailed a few three-pointers to establish a 22-11 first quarter lead and a 46-34 advantage at halftime. The Panthers maintained their advantage to win 81-62 and advance to the Region 7-3A championship game to take on the Arlington Tigers.
“One thing you can’t say about my guys is that they don’t fight,” Buford said of Cougars. “I’m going to go to bed and sleep like a baby tonight. There’s not a kid in that locker room who has dry eyes for one. That let’s me know they care. This may have been a team that had a little bit more talent. But can’t question my guys’ fight. And I can live with that.”
Munford brought the fight in the first quarter with Levi Poindexter hitting two triples in the early moments to make the score 7-6 in favor of Bartlett.
After Bartlett jumped ahead 10-6, Munford forward Michael Lee drilled a three-pointer to cut the deficit to one point again.
The Panthers closed out the first quarter on a 12-2 run.
Jordan Bell hit the first shot of the second quarter for Munford. His teammate Keenan Thompson hit a free throw to make the score 22-14. Then the Panthers proceeded with an 18-6 run to create some breathing room.
Lee stopped the Bartlett momentum with a triple. Munford chipped into the 17-point deficit to trail 46-34 at the break.
The Panthers’ defense held Munford to 12 points in the third quarter. During that same 8 minutes, Bartlett tallied 17 points.
The seesaw exchanged in the fourth quarter was won by Bartlett 18-16 and the Panthers advanced to the next round with a 19-point outcome.
Season One under the guidance of Buford at Munford came to an end. The leader of the Cougars said he is proud of his players and how they matured over the season. Buford said the effort and development of his Cougars deserves a grade of an A.
Munford went from a team coming up short in games to winning the District 13-3A regular season title.
“It’s kind of getting comfortable,” Buford noted. “First of all we didn’t have an identity. You hear the old saying, ‘ You’ve got to get comfortable in your own skin.’ That’s what we had to do. We had to become comfortable in the skin we have. And that skin is just fighting. Just being able to be a Swiss Army Knife. Just being able to do whatever the job needs to be done.”
The fan support in the new Bartlett Gymnasium for the Cougars almost matched the home team’s. Buford said that is another encouraging sign after year one.
“Fan supportwise, thing like that are an A-plus,” he concluded. “But one thing I try to tell myself, that the good with the bad when it comes to that. For everyone who is saying, ‘Good job.’ There may be three saying, ‘Man, he’s horrible.’ I try to keep myself humble. The grade I’ll give us in year one is a C-minus. There is room for improvement.”