PICTURED: MUS senior guard Dekari Scott defends Briarcrest’s Kennedy Chandler earlier this month. The Owls bested CBHS 59-51 on Friday. They will play at St. Benedict this Friday night. Photo by Dana Goode
By Bill Sorrell
With the Memphis University School gym packed to the rafters, that is where the ball went after the Owls’ 59-51 overtime victory over Christian Brothers High School on Friday.
Holding the Purple Wave to two points in overtime, players were mobbed by students as they stormed the court and Owls’ senior guard Dekari Scott threw the ball to the ceiling in celebration.
“It’s always great to see the students and fans excited after a victory in any sport at MUS. We are not playing for ourselves but for the school and it felt great to celebrate with them after a great win,” said senior forward Sellers Shy.
MUS head coach Matt Bakke agreed.
“This is the greatest rivalry. I’m so happy for our students. They are so supportive. It’s a great thing to look out there and see them celebrating with the team. It’s really fun,” he said.
MUS students began chanting “Let’s play football” with 22.4 seconds left, reminding CBHS of the Owls’ 37-14 win during the 2018 season.
“We have six football players on our basketball team so of course we thought it was great to hear our fans reminding the other team of the game in the fall at their place,” said Shy, the Owls’ all-state quarterback.
Christian Brothers forward Bill Norton, Tennessee Mr. Football in 2017, a Mr. Football finalist in 2018 and an all-state defensive end who has committed to play for Georgia this fall, said the rivalry is intense in every sport the schools play.
“Football is like that, especially basketball. It’s always a big game, a packed house. It is a respected rivalry. It is always a fun time playing them but we couldn’t get it done this time. It’s a hard loss.”
With the CBHS student section coming up with a theme for every game, including ski lodge and blackout, they were dressed in a Hawaiian theme that added to to the excitement.
The excitement on the court included the Owls jumping to a 12-3 first quarter lead, expanding it to 21-10 in the second before a 9-0 Purple Wave run cut the lead to two points at halftime.
Outscoring MUS 8-0 in the third, CBHS took its second lead of the game, 29-26, with 4:17 left in third when Reese McMullen hit a 3-pointer and kept it until a trey by the Owls’ Ayman McGowan tiied the game with at 44 with 4:40 left in the fourth.
Two minutes later a trey by Shy from the left corner put MUS ahead 47-44 and Brothers freshman Chandler Jackson sank two free throws to give CBHS the lead 49-47 with 1:14 left.
Henry Wells, the Owls’ tallest player at 6-6, tied the game with 47 seconds left.
In overtime, McGowan’s trey set the tone with a 3-point shot that put the Owls on top 52-49 with 3:15 left. Norton’s basket was the last for CBHS with 2:51 to play.
After Scott’s goal and five free throws by Roderic Lewis, Wells and Coy Stiles led to Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” blaring over the PA system.
“All the credit goes to them. They probably played their best game of the year,” said CBHS head coach Bubba Luckett. “We had a bad practice yesterday. I told our guys I believe we lost this game in practice yesterday. We didn’t believe MUS could beat us. I told them they would be ready to play. I don’t think our guys though they could beat us.
“In this age if people look at records and they think, ‘Their record isn’t very good and our record is pretty good we ought to beat them.’ We came out and didn’t respect them. Hopefully this will be a good loss in learning from it. I told them in the future I hope you believe me.
“We haven’t played well against teams we think we are supposed to beat this year. We are not focused and I will take the responsibility for that. I give all the credit to Coach Bakke and his players. They were ready to play and prepared more to beat us than we were ready and prepared to beat them. They deserved the win.”
The Owls are 6-14, 2-1 in Division 2-AA West while CBHS is 16-7, 1-2.
“You look at our record and it can be deceiving because we have not found our chemistry until just now. We are a lot better than our record shows and I think we are going to show that the last part of the season,” said Bakke.
“The regional games determine our seeding for the state tournament. This is the real season. You only get six of them (region) and you want to be in the top two and this puts us in second place. District wins are huge. These are the games we want. It means so much to the guys because we have had our struggles this year. It seems like we are turning the corner so we needed a win badly. I’m so happy for our players.”
Overcoming 10 unforced turnovers in the first half, the Owls began making shots and cut down on second-half turnovers.
One key was Scott.
“He was very aggressive and felt like he had a good matchup. We took advantage and did some different things to get the ball inside. We were able to score some in the second half and that was the difference. They are very hard to guard. Chandler Jackson is really good. He was tough. We took better care of the ball in the second half. All five startes were good. McGowan hit some big shots. He is a big-time shooter,” said Bakke.
The first four scores the Owls had were treys. Lewis, Wells, Jalen Hollimon, Scott each sparked them to a 12-5 lead at the end of the first quarter.
“We started the game with a lot of energy and never felt like we were out of it,” said Shy.
Stiles’ steal and layup and Lewis’ open-look basket expanded the lead before McMullen stole the ball and scored. Clint Channell’s free throws cut the lead to 16-10 in the second. A steal by Sam Spence led to Jackson’s basket and Norton and Jackson finished the run to close it to 21-19.
“We were in a big hurry for some reason when the game started. We weren’t relaxed. When we settled down we started getting better shots and scoring,” said Luckett.
The CBHS scoring continued in the third. McMullen hit two 3s and Spence, Jackson and Norton each scored. Norton’s basket gave CBHS its biggest lead of the game, 38-32, with 52 seconds left in the third.
“Whenever our guards start scoring it gives the whole team momentum and it spreads when anyone starts being successful. That is always a good thing to see whenever we are down by a lot.
“Reese and Chandler are always leading us pretty well. Reese knocked down two threes and got us rolling. Toward the end of the game we started working. We had momentum we couldn’t finish it,” said Norton, who gave the Brothers a 42-37 lead before the Owls went on their 10-2 run.
Luckett said, “The key to their comeback, we couldn’t guard them and they took advantage of what they thought were mismatches. Our defense let us down. We have counted on our defense most of the year but tonight our defense wasn’t very good and they knocked down big shots. They hit every shot they needed to hit. We really should have won the game in regulation. We had the ball in our hand at the rim and couldn’t finish it.”
Bakke said, “We were fortunate to get in overtme because they had a real good shot at the goal. I was wondering if we have enough energy to play in the overtime. But when we got the lead that gave us the advantage. When it was evident we were going to win it was such a great feeling for the guys. They are resilient and just keep fighting. There are a lot of reasons they could have quit this year.”
Named for his great-great uncle Admiral David Foote Sellers, Shy said, “We have been plagued with injuries from the very beginning of the season and our football players weren’t able to come back until December so we had a slow start in the beginning. Our team has persevered. We have struggled at times but all of us really come together and it showed on Friday.
“We have always known that we are a very capable team. I think we proved to everyone else that we are competitive. Our defense steppd up in overtime and we took control and held on to win. Our defense helped us win the game.”
Jackson finished with a game-high 20 points.
“He is very talented. He doesn’t have many weaknesses other than lack of experience. He is a good ball handler. He can score in multiple ways. He has a great feel for the game. We think he has a very bright future,” said Luckett of Jackson, who leads the team in scoring with an average of 18. McMullen averages 12.
Norton scored 12, McMullen 11, Channell 5, Spence 2, Harrison Kelly 1. CBHS sank 11 of 18 free throws.
“Reese McMullen had a really good game. Bill Norton came in and finished around the bucket. I was real proud of how he contributed. Harrison Kelly is a good shooter. We really didn’t get him the ball. His strength is shooting,” said Luckett.
Scott led MUS with 15 points. Wells had 12, Shy 11, Lewis 7, McGowan 6, Hollimon 5, Stiles 3. The Owls hit 11 of 17 free throws.
Wells, Scott, Shy are leading scorers, averaging about 10 points each. Wells averages a team-high 9 rebounds.
Luckett said that the Purple Wave have had some games there were pretty balanced.
“In the second half we felt like we could could score but we were not getting stops and we missed some critical opportunities.
It was not a very good game for us on either end of the floor.”
Norton said, “We had some mental errors and simple mistakes that cost us. I don’t think we came prepared enough. We are fortunate to play them again this season. There are always positives. It was another experience. We found negatives that we are going to have to work on.”
Norton (6-6, 275) committed to Georgia in March and signed in December.
“That was a big deal. I knew that is where I wanted to be. I’m very excited about that. Basketball helps keep me in shape. It’s fun hanging out with my friends and playing games like this. That is a very awesome thing and it helps me with my footwork,” said Norton. “We have a bunch of characters on this team. I enjoy coming to basketball every day because we have a bunch of characters. We have dudes who are serious. We have dudes that joke around.”
Luckett is in his 36th year at CBHS with 26 being a head coach and seven as an assistant.
“I have learned that is doesn’t matter how long you have been doing it you still get nervous before games, You have butterflies in your stomach. Honestly I enjoy practices more than games.
“I think I have become over time a better defensive coach than offensive coach. My son (Brad Luckett) is my assistant. He is really good on the offensive side. The funny thing is I was an offensive player (at Memphis from 1979-83) and he was better defensively as a player. We are switching roles as coaches. Our strengths are opposite.”
His son is in his seventh year as assisant.
“He is the best young coach I have been around. He is just a fantastic young coach and will be really good down the road when he has his own program,” Bubba Luckett said.
Luckett and Bakke were teammates on White Station junior high’s team.
“We have been good friends for years,” said Luckett.
Bakke recently announced his retirement. He has been at MUS for 20 years, seven as head coach and 13 as an assistant under legendary coach Jerry Peters.
Peters, who won 1,001 games, second among Tennessee coaches, died in May.
Bakke said, “I think the main thing that Coach Peters did was he let the players play. He said the players are going to determine wins and losses and keep things simple for them and help put them in a position to win and decide the outcome. He was such a great teacher of the game. He was such a great man with such great character. He was my mentor. I learned so much from him.”
Luckett said of Bakke, “I’m going to miss all the games we have had together. He has done a really good job at MUS. It doesn’t matter what our records are. It is always close. ”
Shy said, “We just found out a week ago that Coach was retiring. As players we would love to see his last season be a memorable one.”