By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
CASSTOWN — Even with Milton-Union dominating early, it was no surprise that Saturday’s game at Miami East was decided in the final minute.
The Vikings fought back from a deficit as big as 13 points to get within one point with 1:17 to play, but the Bulldogs forced a pair of costly turnovers and were 6 for 6 from the free throw line in the final 60 seconds as the Milton-Union boys basketball team held off non-league rival Miami East for a 49-44 victory on the road Saturday night.
With last year’s and two of the last seven meetings between the teams going to overtime, nail-biters have become fairly commonplace in the rivalry between the Bulldogs (3-1) and Vikings (3-2).
“It’s always going to be a close game,” Milton-Union coach Rusty Berner said. “Even when we got up big, we told the guys that we’d seen them on film, and we knew they were going to battle back and weren’t going to quit.”
The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for the Vikings, who won last year’s overtime game against Milton-Union 54-52. And though Miami East has won seven of the nine meetings since the 2012-13 season, the Bulldogs have now won two of the last three.
“We’re going to build off the positives,” Roeth said. “We played an awful first quarter, but I am super proud of how our boys responded. We were down 12 at halftime, came out and just said let’s just try to win the second half, and we did.”
After eight minutes, it seemed like Milton-Union would make short work of the Vikings.
The Bulldogs began the game on an 11-0 run, with Miami East not scoring until the 2:15 mark of the first quarter. A back-door cut by Nathan Brumbaugh gave Milton-Union its largest lead of the night at 15-2 before a jumper by Sam Zapadka cut the deficit to 15-4 after one.
Miami East chipped away at the lead throughout the second quarter, getting to within four at 20-16 after a 3-pointer by Tyler Stapleton. But the Bulldogs closed the half on an 11-3 run from there, with a Sam Case 3 giving them a 31-19 lead at the break.
The Vikings wouldn’t go away, though, outscoring the Bulldogs 16-10 in the third to cut the lead in half, and with 1:17 to go a Zapadka free throw cut the lead to one at 43-42.
“Give credit to their kids. They didn’t quit,” Berner said of Miami East. “In the second half, they did a really good job of controlling the pace. Coming into this game, we wanted to play fast, and I thought we did a good job of that early, making them uncomfortable. They handled our pressure in the second half and forced us into a half-court game — and at the end of the day, we’re not shooting the ball real well. And the name of the game is that you’ve got to put the ball in the hoop.”
“I thought we made some adjustments at halftime, and the bottom line was I thought we played with a lot of heart and hustle. And that’s one thing we’re trying to focus on with the guys is just playing hard,” Roeth said. “But we’ve got to play hard from start to finish.”
And after a strong start, the Bulldogs finished strong, as well, forcing three turnovers in the Vikings’ final four possessions to limit East’s chances and then converting free throws on their own end to put it away.
“We had a couple turnovers there, and when you get to the last minute, every possession counts,” Roeth said. “We were still in a position to win, but then they started hitting their free throws at the end.”
Milton-Union, which had been 1 for 6 from the line in the game to that point, was a perfect 6 for 6 in the final minute. Nathan Brumbaugh had a steal and hit two free throws to make the score 45-42, then Case turned another steal into two more free throws. And after a Brayden Young putback cut the lead to 47-44 with 13.3 seconds left, Case was fouled again and casually sank two more free throws to seal it.
“When we had to make them,” Berner said. “I thought we got caught up in the atmosphere and didn’t handle it real well, but, down the stretch, we got stops, made free throws when we needed to and closed out the game. And right now, we’ve got a veteran group that knows what needs to happen in the last few minutes.”
Blake Brumbaugh led a trio of Bulldogs in double figured with 15 points, Nathan Brumbaugh added 12 points and five assists, Brandon Lavy had 10 points and five rebounds, Case finished with seven points, four rebounds and four assists and Andrew Lambert had five points as Milton-Union won the turnover battle 23-13.
Zapadka led all scorers with 18 points for the Vikings and hit three of the team’s eight 3s, while Stapleton added 12 points on four 3s. Brendon Bertsch scored five points, Keegan Mahaney had four points, seven rebounds and three assists, helping East fight back from that bad first quarter to win the battle of the boards 27-24, Young finished with four points and Adam Bensman had one point.
“I’m happy with the positive things. I’m upset that we had a tough loss, but I was happy that we were down at halftime and got back into it,” Roeth said. “That shows we have a lot of heart. The kids lost several close games last year, and we’ve been on the kids about finishing. We’re still trying to work through having a whole new coaching system, and we still have yet to put together a full game from start to finish the way I think it should look for us. We’re going to get there.”
Both teams return to league play this week, with Miami East traveling to Arcanum Tuesday and Milton-Union traveling to Madison Friday.
Contact Troy Daily News Sports Editor Josh Brown at email@example.com, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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