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The Milligan College basketball team is in the midst of its busiest stretch of the season, with five games in eight days, and the Buffs got something to build on Monday night.
They pulled out an 81-78 victory over Berea at Lacy Fieldhouse thanks to a late 12-point run and big games from Cartree Pettis and Tyler DeVault. The Buffs now stand at 3-3.
Pettis, the freshman guard from Oviedo, Fla., scored a season-high 22 points on 8-of-9 shooting and added four steals and four assists.
“He’s not really a scorer, and you look at the stat sheet at the end of the game and say, ‘How did he do that?’ ” coach Bill Robinson said Tuesday. “He’s not always looking for his shot. He’s just been able to get by defenders and make things happen.
“He’s second for us in scoring, first in steals, first in assists. Being a freshman, I’m a little surprised that he’s had the impact he has so far.”
DeVault, meanwhile, collected 14 points and eight rebounds in another workmanlike performance. The senior from Kingsport leads the team in both categories, at 14.0 and 6.8, respectively.
“He’s solid as ever,” said Robinson. “Every team needs somebody like that, especially when you gotta have a bucket.”
The Buffs visit Virginia Intermont tonight for their Appalachian Athletic Conference opener, then come over to the Dome to take on East Tennessee State on Thursday night. They’ve been playing the Bucs regularly the last few seasons, with very little success to show for it.
The margin of difference over the last five games has been 42 points.
“I’m just glad they continue to play us, because it’s a great experience for our guys to see Division I competition,” said Robinson. “We haven’t really competed when we’ve gone over there the last couple of years. I’m not saying we can make it a single-digit game this time, but I hope we can show the local people we can compete and put up a fight.”
Robinson knows the Bucs have an inexperienced team this year that got much more so when senior guards Sheldon Cooley and Marcus Dubose were suspended on drug charges two weeks ago. Three freshmen and a sophomore have been playing heavy minutes.
“Sounds like they have some stuff going on,” said Robinson. “Maybe they’ll overlook us a little bit.”
Robinson has been keeping an eye on his own league, and the early results. The only conference matchup so far was a shocker: 17th-ranked Tennessee Wesleyan, the overwhelming preseason favorite, lost 85-74 to Point, the team picked to finish last.
Point must not have been paying attention to preseason polls; the Skyhawks are 8-2.
“They’ve got a bunch of new guys, and we won’t see them until second semester,” said Robinson. “For them to be 8-2 is a little bit of a surprise. Tennessee Wesleyan, we knew their point guard is out until second semester, but they have so much more talent than everybody else. So that’s a surprise, too.”
The Lady Buffs also open their conference schedule tonight at Virginia Intermont, and they should be well-rested. They haven’t played since sweeping two games in the Milligan Classic 10 days ago.
“I feel really good about the way we were playing, and the way we’ve been practicing,” said coach Rich Aubrey. “Having a little time off gave us a chance to catch our breath and work on some things.”
None of the AAC women’s teams have begun conference play. Montreat is off to a 7-1 start overall, and Bryan is at 5-1.
Milligan stands at 5-2, while it opponent tonight, VI, is 4-4.
“Until we start playing each other, it’s hard to judge,” said Aubrey. “But one thing that has been confirmed is that our conference is very deep. A lot of the teams have quality wins so far. It’s going to be very competitive from top to bottom.”
The Lady Buffs have four scorers averaging in double figures. Kayla Kelly leads the way at 14.2, followed by Dorian Freeman (11.8), Tracy Hardiman (11.0) and Jaimee Hill (10.2).
Kelly, a 5-9 junior from Chattanooga, is also the leading rebounder, at 6.7.