By Josh Brown
WEST MILTON — First-year coach Mitch Westerheide knew his Milton-Union boys basketball team had a tough task in his debut Friday night, facing Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye Division rival Northridge right out of the gate.
“We knew it’d be a tough matchup. What they best is what we don’t do best, because when they press, we turn the ball over a lot,” Westerheide said.
That proved to be the difference in the game, as well, as the Bulldogs turned the ball over 20 times in the first half against the Polar Bears’ full-court press — with most of those coming during a 27-0 run between the first and second quarters that gave Northridge control as Milton-Union (0-1, 0-1 SWBL Buckeye) dropped its season opener at home Friday night, 58-41.
It was the ninth straight loss for the Bulldogs against the Polar Bears, who have won two of the last three division championships. The last time Milton-Union — which has won only three games in each of the past two seasons — defeated Northridge was on Jan. 11, 2014.
But though the Bulldogs trailed the Polar Bears (1-0, 1-0 SWBL Buckeye) by as many as 25 points late in the second quarter, they showed that they could handle the pressure, as well, committing only five turnovers in the second half and outscoring Northridge 14-10 in the third quarter and 30-23 in the second half overall.
“That’s what we kind of preached, what we’ve been preaching all year, is that next-play mentality,” Westerheide said. “We can’t change the past. But we can dictate what we do in the future. The guys came out hard — I think we went on a 7-0 run to start that third quarter, so it’s really a testament to the kids’ character.”
Both teams were slow to get going early on, but a drive by William Morris and a 3 by Nathan Brumbaugh gave the Bulldogs a 7-6 lead with 4:15 remaining in the first quarter. From there, though, Northridge scored 27 unanswered points, taking a 12-7 lead after the first quarter and then pouring in 22 straight points to start the second quarter before Caleb Wintrow converted a three-point play to make the score 33-10 with less than three minutes until halftime. Northridge’s Denny Moses hit a shot at the buzzer, making the score 35-11 at the break.
“We had 20 turnovers in the first half. You’re not going to beat a lot of teams when you turn the ball over 20 times,” Westerheide said. “That’s been our Achilles heel for the last two years and something we’ve really been preaching. But once we learned to slow down a little bit, we started finding some success. I think that’s something we can take with us into the next couple games.”
Aaron Stone scored a pair of buckets in the paint to begin the third quarter, then Brumbaugh hit another 3 to make the score 35-18. Charles Drewery ended the brief run with a steal and layup, but Morris knocked down a 3 to cap off a 10-2 run to start the quarter. Twon Hines answered with a 3, but Stone and Morris scored back-to-back buckets to get the Bulldogs to within 15 at 40-25.
Northridge scored the final five points of the third quarter, though, including another 3 by Hines to make the score 45-25 heading into the fourth, and the Polar Bears closed out the game from there. Hines came off the bench and scored 16 of his game-high 20 points after halftime to help the Polar Bears maintain control despite the Bulldogs’ second-half stubbornness. Moses finished with eight points and five rebounds, TaVaughn Johnson had seven points and six rebounds and Jared Lewis scored six points.
Morris led Milton-Union with 12 points, seven rebounds and three steals, while Brumbaugh and Stone scored six points apiece. Wintrow scored five points, A.J. Lovin had four points, four assists and three steals, Ryan Moore had four points, Jacob Goodman and Blake Ullery each had two points and Daniel Albaugh had six rebounds.
Up next for the Bulldogs is a road matchup at Franklin Monroe Tuesday.
“It’s a learning moment — everything is. And I know we’ll rebound,” Westerheide said. “Everyone was positive in the locker room, and that’s what we’ve been preaching all year. I know we’ll get there.
“It’s just a stepping stone that we’ve got to get over, and I know these guys will. Now we’ve got to get ready for Franklin Monroe on Tuesday.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.