By Josh Brown
CASSTOWN — With four meetings in the past two seasons, there are no secrets between Miami East and Milton-Union.
After four games this season, the Viking defense won’t be able to fly under anyone’s radar anymore either.
Miami East (4-0) — which has allowed an average of only 30 points per game in its first four games this year — forced 24 turnovers Saturday night, 20 of those in live-ball situations going the other direction, feeding its offense with its defense in a convincing 63-29 victory over the Bulldogs at home.
“We played each other twice each of the past two years, and we wanted to bring a little more pressure this time,” Miami East coach Allen Mack said. “They’ve got some good shooters, and we didn’t want to let them get set on the perimeter. We knew (Milton-Union coach) Rusty (Berner) would have them prepared, but I thought we were more physical and quicker to the ball tonight.”
Nine of those turnovers came in the first quarter as the Bulldogs (0-4) only managed to even take eight shot attempts.
“We’re just not doing a good job of taking care of the basketball. That’s a consistent thing for us right now, and that’s creating offense for the other team,” Berner said. “Obviously, give credit to Miami East’s defense. Their zone is well known, they’ve got a good group that knows it well and has good size on the back end of it. It’s probably one of the better groups they’ve had to run it.”
“On offense, chemistry is important and being a good teammate is important. But on defense, it’s important, also,” Mack said. “It’s important to help each other and play as a team. We graduated three guys from last year, but we’ve got a good core group back, and they seem to be getting it, to be picking each other up.”
Meanwhile, with leading scorer Damien Mackesy on the bench in early foul trouble, Miami East’s Brandon Mack caught fire. The senior point guard hit three straight 3-pointers — two on assists from Kley Karadak and one from Ryan Haney — to turn a 9-5 lead into an 18-5 one, and he hit four total 3s in the first quarter to help the Vikings build an impressive 20-5 lead.
And after finishing the first half with nine points to help the Vikings go up 30-13 at the break, Mackesy scored East’s first eight points in the third quarter as the Vikings turned three quick turnovers into easy points the other way to put the game well out of reach.
Mack finished with 20 points, hitting six 3s in the game and adding five steals and three assists. Mackesy added another 20 points, four steals and three assists despite fouling out on the second possession of the fourth quarter.
“Brandon and Damien both played well tonight,” Mack said. “Brandon had a good shooting night, especially in the first quarter. His teammates were finding him, and he knocked them down. And the defense turned it up a notch after halftime and Damien was the beneficiary finishing. Sometimes we have to watch how aggressive we are, as we did foul more than I would’ve liked. But I’d also prefer the guys to be aggressive than to be the other way.”
Ryan Haney added seven points, four assists and a game-high eight rebounds as the Vikings won the battle of the boards 35-20, with all 11 players on the roster grabbing at least one rebound. Logan West added six points and six rebounds and Braxton Donaldson scored four points.
Eric Swartz led Milton-Union with nine points and seven rebounds, scoring seven of those in the second half — and five from the free throw line as the Bulldogs only managed nine field goals in the game. Tommy Smith added six points, hitting two of the team’s three 3s, Blake Smith hit the other 3 and scored five and Blake Ullery added four.
“We’re just not shooting the ball well,” Berner said. “Part of that is shot selection, but a big part of it is mental, too. It’s in the guys’ heads now, and we need to move through it. I say shooting is mental, but it’s all about eliminating the mental aspect. We’re carrying misses with us from game to game, and we need to have shorter memories.
“We told the kids that through these first four games, we’ve played an undefeated league team on the road at Preble Shawnee, we shot 27 percent at Franklin Monroe, and then we’ve played probably the best two teams in Division III in the Dayton area in Northridge and now Miami East. It’s been a tough start and we’ve got a young group, but the older kids are trying to lead. We just need to keep moving through it.”
Milton-Union has two more games left on its five-game road trip, at Madison Tuesday and at Arcanum on Dec. 19. Miami East, meanwhile, hosts Tri-County North Friday.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.