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Mustangs, Miller defeat Dragons

Collierville's Connor Phillips with the baby hook in the lane

Two Houston basketball players have contests that go beyond the game.
Both 6-foot-7-inch, sophomores Zander Yates and Mason Miller have after- practice big-boy challenges of seeing who can jump the highest, touch the top of the backboard the most and win the most dunk contests.
They weren’t the only ones who were up for the Trashy v. Classy rivalry that is Collierville v. Houston.
Wearing coats and ties, skirts and dress, Houston students dressed up for the game on Friday and Houston players on the bench would jump up when a teammate attempted a 3-point shot.
Applause also went up from the Houston student section when their chant of “We want Gilmore,” was answered when senior Jackson Gilmore entered the game in the fourth quarter.
He did not disappoint. In his first year on the basketball team, he knocked down two treys as the Mustangs continued to expand their lead before winning 63-37 at Houston.
“That is always exciting when he comes in. He always works hard in practice,” said Yates.
Houston head coach Charlie Leonard said, “In college we would call him a walk-on. He is a kid that came out his senior year and busted his tail. He does all the dirty work but doesn’t get a lot of the runs so when he does get that opportunity people are excited for him.”
Exciting is how Yates described the Mustangs’ second victory over the Dragons. Houston won in Colllierville 46-27 on Jan. 11.
“We executed well on offense and our defense was great too. We knew what they were running so we scouted them well. We worked together as a team,” said Yates.
The victory put Houston at 18-7, 7-2 in District 15-AAA. Collierville is 12-12, 3-6 in district.
The moniker for the rivalry began as perception.
“The Trashy v. Classy is really how both schools perceive each other. We are trashy because of how Southern Collierville kids can be. The Houston kids are known to be more formal and preppy. Both schools go all out each year,” said Collierville forward Connnor Phillips, a 6-4, 200-pound junior and tallest player.
Collierville students dressed in camouflage. The basket was in camouflage for the Dragons the first quarter. They did not score a point, trailing Houston 9-0 at the end of the quarter. It was the first time this season they had been held scoreless in the first.
Houston students let them know it. They chanted “Zero, Zero.”
With 7:04 left in the second quarter, Kevin Wright scored the Dragons’ first points after Houston took a 14-0 lead.
“We just have trouble shooting period. We don’t score the ball well. We don’t have a go-guy that can go out and get you 20 on a given night. We have had that in the past,” said Collierville Head Coach Jonathan Mooneyham, referring to Jalen Lynn, a Colllierville grad, who scored 40 points on Thursday for Mid-South Community College. He sank 12 of 15 3-pointers.
“We knew coming in this year that is was going to have to be a team effort and we didn’t put the ball in the basket. When the ball doesn’t go in the basket it makes for an ugly game. You can run the prettiest offense in the world and play the best defense but if you can’t score you are going to get beat. It is hard when you can’t put the ball in the hoop and tonight we couldn’t do it. It is somewhat of an embarrassment factor to kids to go scoreless to start the game for a whole quarter.”
Said Phillips, “The result of the first quarter was frustrating but I was feeling optimistic. We showed flashes of playing lock down defense and knocking down shots but were unable to sustain. We were getting good looks but they were just not falling. In the second quarter nerves cooled and we slowed the game down. The shots that we were missing began to fall and the team got on a good run.”
The Mustangs played man-to-man defense in the first.
“When we are aggressive we are capable of being a good defensive team. They had some limitations and we were fortunate enough to take advantage of them. They missed a bunch of open looks early on. That just happens,” said Leonard.
“This time of year the key is, ‘Do we share the ball aggressively or do we settle for shots? Collierville struggled and we got up in a hurry. Then we got kind of passive on the offense and we settled for a few shots. Once we got back into another mode we did a better job of execution.”
The second quarter was almost even with Houston outscoring the Dragons 19-17 for a 28-17 halftime lead.
Mooneyham said the scoreless first quarter did affect his team mentally.
“When you come out and can’t get a basketball that sets the tone for the night even though we came back and responded in the second quarter, it was still in the back of our head we have gone a whole quarter without scoring. We were motivated. That may have been why we didn’t shoot well. We may have been a little tight.”
The Dragons loosened up in the second quarter.
“We were only down 11 at half and that is certainly still a ballgame. You don’t go down 11 at half and think the game is over,” he said.
“We had hope. We caught our rhythm in the second quarter. it would have been easy for us to come out in the second quarter and put our heads down. I don’t think we did that. We continued to pound the rock and find a way to get us some points in the second quarter. That is the most positive part of the game because we didn’t quit.”
Both teams were scoreless almost three minutes into the first. Alex Marsh, who played an excellent game for the Mustangs, scored their first five points with a trey and basket before 6-7 Fazion Fields, T.J. Madlock and Miller scored.
Madlock’s 3-pointer extended it to 14-0 and Miller to 16-2. The Dragons’ first 3-pointer came from Kyle Warren. A great under-the-basket shot by Houston’s Hank Pearson put Houston up 20-7.
Matt Cox, Wes Davis, Wright, a driving layup by Jeff Hubbart, free throws by Javere Washington and Wright sparked the Dragons scoring in the second.
Marsh sank two consecutive treys that helped give Houston a 26-15 lead with 1:01 left. Fields and Madlock each scored in the second.
With Mooneyham hoping the Dragons would continue their scoring, the second half started like the first. The Dragons were held to four points in the third quarter.
Madlock, Nick Tarrence and Fields pushed Houston ahead 36-17. Hubbart’s basket and free throw and Warren’s free throw were the only scorers for the Dragons in the third.
A steal by Fields and his dunk with 3:27 left in the third was a boost for Houston.
“When Houston got a transition dunk is when the momentum shifted totally in their direction,” said Phillips.
Miller’s block led to a free throw by Tarrence and Miller finished with four straight points for a 44-21 lead at the end of three.
“We struggled to score in the second half. We got back down in a hole and tried to find ways to get the ball to go in and it never seemed to go. Not to take away from them, they played solid defense but we got open. We got some solid looks out of our offense, we just didn’t make the basket. They had a part to do with it for sure. At some point when you are open you have got to put the ball in the hole,” said Mooneyham.
With a dunk of his own, Miller expanded the lead to 49-24 with 6:24 to play. Before that Phillips had a basket and a free throw. Max McClintock, Houston’s 6-2 senior, put the Mustangs on top 51-26 and Miller scored two free throws. Jordan Jenkins and Hubbart had free throws for Collierville.
Within a minute, Gilmore sank two 3-pointers. His first made it 56-30 and second 59-34. C.J. Wilson sank a trey for Collierville. Davis scored four of Collierville’s 16 fourth quarter points.
Ethan Roberts’ free throws gave Houston its largest lead of the game, 63-35.
“With the game well decided and putting in our guys who don’t play much, we told them we are playing against the game, we’re not worried about the score,” said Mooneyham.
“For us to scrap that is what we talk about all the time. We just have to play hard. There is nothing we can do about the fact that we are not very big but I told them there are two things you can control, your attitude and your effort. We talk about that a lot.
“We don’t accept putting your head down and quitting. We don’t stop coaching them until the game is over and we expect them to do the very best they can until the game is over no matter the score. I tell them all the time if you put your head down and quit it doesn’t get better, it gets worse. You have to keep fighting, I think our kids do that. We didn’t quit.”
The Mustangs played solid from beginning to end said Leonard.
“I thought Nick played very solid. I thought Fazion was good. T.J. has always been solid. I thought Mason was pretty solid. That was really encouraging going forward. We have enough bodies to be competitive.”
Miller, the son of former Memphis Grizzlies player and current University of Memphis assistant basketball coach Mike Miller, had missed 11 weeks due to back problems.
Leonard called Marsh an “excellent shooter.”
“The thing that people don’t recognize about Alex and they need to that I look at, he is a really solid defender,” he added. “He gives us good energy on both ends of the floor and we feed off the confidence when he jumps up to shoot it.”
The Mustangs’ “drives and kick game (pass to open shooters) is what beat us. They had good drivers and shooters that compliment each other,” said Phillips.
Miller scored a game-high 12 points. Marsh scored 11, Madlock 10, Fields 8, Tarrence 8, Gilmore 6, McClintock 4, Roberts 2, Pearson 2. Houston sank 11 of 17 free throws.
The top scorer for the Dragons was Wright with 9. Davis added 6, Hubbart 6, Wilson 5, Washington 3, Phillips 3, Warren 3, Cox 2. Collierville hit 14 of 25 free throws.
Wright, Hubbart, Washington brought “a lot of energy to the team” Phillips said.
Mooneyham praised Phillilps for his game.
“I did like what I saw from Connor tonight. He started out really slow this year. He had a hamstring injury and missed two months. He was all out of rhythm, out of sync. We put him in some JV games after Christmas to give him some confidence. I think it has really made a difference. I feel good with him on the floor. He was a bright spot.”
Phillips said, “I got a lot of scoring opportunities even though all of them didn’t fall. My teammates did a great job of setting me up.”
When he returned to the floor, he said that he was “out of shape and rusty. I struggled quite a bit out of the gate but JV let me get a lot of opportunities to see the ball go in the hoop. I really had no idea I would be playing JV but it worked out well for me in the end. I’m not all the way healed. I can’t fully weight lift. It’s difficult to heal because of the high location of the hamstring strain but I’m confident I can get back to 100 percent after the season is over.”
The Mustangs are a talented team who use height to their advantage.
“They have got some nice pieces and they have some guys who can make threes. Miller is a talent. When you have a point guard like Madlock (the leading scorer with a 16-point average) that can make plays, bigs that can rebound and some guys that can just sit in the corner and make shots that makes life a little bit easier,” said Mooneyham.
In his second season at Houston, Leonard was head coach 12 years at Christian Brothers High School, seven years as head coach at Christian Brothers University (1990-97), an assistant coach at Memphis, North Texas and LSU and Director of Basketball Operations at LSU before being hired at Houston by one of his former CBU players Chad Becker, the Houston athletic director. It is his 44th year of coaching basketball.
“You can’t change your expectations. I was fortunate enough when I was at CBHS (and CBU) to have some success. The college game is very different (than high school) because of the shot clock. When you watch what made guys successful college players you realize that they’re not the most talented guys. They are guys who don’t take no for an answer. They show up to do their job. They do their work every day. They are in a constant improvement mode. In high school you are dealing with younger bodies.
“If you can get kids in that mode early on, then your team gets better in a hurry,” Leonard said.
One thing he learned about the Mustangs on Friday is “they like to win. Coming off a big win (against Southwind) I was curious to see how they would play. It’s a rivalry game. There shouldn’t be a reason not to be ready to play. I want to be going into the tournament playing well.
“My thing is how well did we make plays, do our assignments. If we do our assignments the rest of it takes care of itself. We came ready to play (against Collierville). When you throw it up and you are ready that gives you a chance,” he said.
The Dragons will continue to work on shooting.
“It’s not that we didn’t get open looks. I don’t know that there is an easy answer for it. We work on it. We shoot a lot. We have a couple of kids I feel confident shooting. Jeff Hubbart is a really good shooter. He shot it well Tuesday night. He had been in a slump. Tuesday (against Germantown) he made four threes and had 18 points. I thought he was going to be back for us. He had a hard time getting the ball to go in (tonight),” said Mooneyham.
Phillps expects the Dragons to get back to “creating havoc on defense and running in transition while keeping turnovers low.”
He also expects to see 6-1, 148-pound junior Christian Baker dunk.
“A lot of people don’t know how well Christian can dunk. He has a monster vertical and delivers impressive dunks,” said Phillips.
His funniest experiences this season were road trips to Baton Rouge and Birmingham for games.
The Dragons left Houston disappointed.
“I feel bad for them. It’s a rivalry game. People talk about it. They get on social media and unfortunately that is our day and age. Back when we played when we got beat you didn’t have to go check your social media and hear about it again,” said Mooneyham. “That is tough for them. That is the way it is in rivalry games. Teams are going to bring their best.”
With Houston’s talent in its sophomores and juniors, “We have a chance to be pretty good down the line,” Leonard said. “People will figure us out pretty soon if they haven’t already. It’s hard to hide in Memphis.”

Houston's Mason Miller with the throw down. Photos by Kevin Lewter

Houston’s Mason Miller with the throw down.
Photos by Kevin Lewter

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