By Josh Brown
CASSTOWN — Even after five straight losses to begin the season, the Milton-Union boys basketball team didn’t go into Saturday’s matchup against undefeated Miami East without confidence.
“We just needed to play basketball, take care of the ball better than we have been, and win the game,” Milton-Union junior post Aaron Stone said.
That’s exactly what the Bulldogs did, too.
Milton-Union (1-5) jumped out to an early lead and then put together a 19-0 run over the first two quarters to shock the Vikings and take a 20-point halftime lead, then the Bulldogs fended off the Vikings’ inevitable second-half rally and handed Miami East its first loss, winning 53-40 Saturday night on the road.
“I couldn’t be more proud of my whole team and the way they played and battled today,” said first-year Milton-Union coach Mitch Westerheide after picking up his first victory as the Bulldogs’ coach. “We have a lot of respect for Miami East and coach (Allen) Mack. His record speaks for itself. We knew we’d need to be ready to play today, so we’ve been stressing focus. I think we came in really focused, and that’s just due to the respect we have for them.”
For Miami East (1-5), a team giving up only 32 points per game in its first five wins and which had held its most recent opponent to only 22 the night before, surrendering 29 first-half points to the Bulldogs was a shock.
“I’ve been around it too many games, and this game is a humbling game,” said Mack, who won his 400th career game as Miami East’s coach the previous weekend and currently sits on 401. “Milton earned the victory tonight. They were the quicker and more aggressive team, and they really took it to us in the first half.
“It was a different pace than we had played in the last two games. The last two games, we did not score as many as we did tonight, and we won both of those. Milton was the aggressor tonight, and they earned the victory, mostly in the first half.”
The Bulldogs took a page out of the Vikings’ book in that first half, too, using their defense to gain the advantage. After an Austin Rutledge putback cut Milton-Union’s lead to 8-4 with 3:04 left in the first quarter, Miami East didn’t score again until there was less than two minutes left in the half. The Bulldogs built a 15-point lead by the end of the first quarter — with a half-court heave by Daniel Albaugh at the buzzer making the score 19-4 — and a steal and layup by A.J. Lovin made the score 27-4 before the Vikings next dented the scoreboard.
“We really committed to the defensive end,” Westerheide said. “We’ve been stressing it to the guys. In the first five games, we’ve given up in the 60s. We knew we needed to get it down to the 40s. The biggest difference in this game was that we were on the floor for every 50-50 ball, we were taking charges. That’s the mindset we’ve been preaching to the guys, and we’re finally starting to see how they can play.”
Another big factor was Stone’s play inside.
The junior had a career-high 23 points and posted his first double-double with 13 rebounds. He and Nathan Brumbaugh — who also finished with a career best with 10 points — both scored eight in the first half to help stake the Bulldogs out to a 29-9 lead.
“I just came here with my head on straight, ready to play the game,” Stone said. “We just didn’t let down. We kept our heads up and kept playing.”
“That’s what we expect from Aaron,” Westerheide said. “When he gets big and he’s quick with the ball, he’s hard to guard. And he’s been learning to get the ball up high on the glass, where he’s not missing those layups anymore. I couldn’t be more proud of the way Aaron played today.”
The Vikings, meanwhile, couldn’t get anyone involved early except Rutledge, who scored all nine of their first-half points. He finished with a double-double of his own with 15 points and 10 rebounds, and though the rest of the team came alive in the second half, it was too little, too late.
“I’ve been doing this a while, and I really can’t remember a game where we only had one guy score in a half,” Mack said. “And all season long, we’ve said that we don’t know where the points are going to come from. But they’ve been spread around, yet only one guy scores in the first half? That, to me, led to a lot of our inability to defend on the other end. They were just a step quicker. We were just a step slot tonight.”
Miami East did outscore Milton-Union 15-8 in the third quarter, cutting the deficit to 37-24 heading into the final eight minutes. But 13 points was as close as the Vikings got, and Stone scored nine of his points in the fourth to help put the game away.
Caleb Wintrow added seven points for Milton-Union, Albaugh had five points, five rebounds and four assists and Lovin and William Morris each scored four.
Brendon Bertsch came off the bench to add nine points for the Vikings, Parker Heim scored six, Will Hudson had four points and four rebounds, Dylan Hahn had three points, Justin Brown scored two and Austin Kearns had one.
Miami East will look to bounce back Tuesday when it returns to league play on the road at Twin Valley South.
“I am confident in our guys,” Mack said. “They’ve played very well to earn a 5-1 start. I’m very confident they’re going to come back, work hard, regroup and play much better on Tuesday night.”
And as for the Bulldogs, who return home to host Newton Tuesday?
“We’re still not satisfied,” Stone said. “We’re going to go out and win more games.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.