MURFREESBORO — The Whites Creek boys used team basketball to get on a roll late in the season and secure their first state tournament appearance in nearly a decade.
According to second-year coach Carlton Battle, the Cobras’ unselfish play might have actually worked against them in the waning moments of Friday’s Class AA semifinal showdown with Brainerd at Murphy Center.
“We were a little bit timid down the stretch, and I wish the guys would have trusted themselves and taken the open shots,” Battle said after Whites Creek’s 66-62 season-ending loss to the Panthers.
“Sometimes you ask your kids to play unselfish for so long, and then it gets to the time in a basketball game when a kid may need to be a little selfish. We got here by playing team basketball, and we’re leaving playing team ball.”
Whites Creek (22-12), coming off an impressive 100-76 quarterfinal win over Westview, fell behind late in the third quarter. The District 10-AA champion and Region 5-AA runner-up Cobras caught fire early in the fourth, stringing together a 10-0 run to claim a 53-47 advantage with 4:48 remaining.
However, they were unable to close things out.
“Whites Creek played their butts off and they deserved to be here,” said Brainerd coach LeVar Brown, whose Panthers will play Fulton in Saturday’s 6 p.m. Class AA championship. “They’re a well-coached team, and I didn’t know that until tonight.
“They were everything that we heard they were.”
Junior Ruot Monyyong finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocked shots to lead the Cobras, who committed sixth fourth-quarter turnovers and four in the final 1:50, while junior Jaquan Brooks contributed seven points and 13 boards.
The Panthers (30-5), led by sophomore Jesse Walker’s 23-point, 15-rebound effort, battled back to tie things up on a pair of Walker free throws with 2:24 left, and moments later, Malik Beavers buried a floater to put Brainerd in front 59-58.
“We just gave it up at the end,” said Whites Creek senior Jonathan Richardson, who tallied nine points, four rebounds and three assists.
“It still seems unreal,” added Battle. “It was another roller coaster — back and forth, back and forth. We’d seen them play and we knew what they were capable of. We knew what was coming and it was our jobs to try and execute regardless.
“Hats off to Coach (Brown) and their program moving on.”