Milligan College head basketball coach Bill Robinson couldn’t think of a better way to end a tough week than a victory over his former team on Saturday afternoon at Steve Lacy Fieldhouse.
The Buffaloes defeated Montreat 88-77 to improve to 1-1 in the Appalachian Athletic Conference and 4-4 overall. It came after a week when they lost a 67-65 heartbreaker at Virginia Intermont and were blown out 94-46 in an exhibition at East Tennessee State.
Robinson, who coached at Montreat for 12 years, said there is something extra special when his team faces his former school.
“It never will be just another game and it being a conference game, it’s that much more important,” Robinson said. “It is a game we mark on the calendar as soon as the schedule is made. It’s a big win.”
The Milligan women defeated Montreat 75-61 in an earlier contest.
On the men’s side, Montreat fell to 2-6, 0-1 with the loss which was brought on partially by Milligan’s strong start. The Buffs scored the first nine points of the game and led 42-31 at halftime after shooting nearly 68 percent from the field.
Montreat scored the first three baskets of the second half and closed within five, but got no closer. Milligan used a 10-2 run around the 11-minute mark to go up 60-44. The margin stayed 11 points or more the rest of the contest.
Tyler DeVault was the Buffs’ leading scorer with 17 points, a dozen of them coming in the second half.
“I don’t know if we’ve shot as well all year as we did in the first half,” DeVault said. “We knew it wasn’t going to last, but in the second half, we were still able to pound it inside and get points off that.”
Cartree Pettis tallied 16 points and five assists, while Torian Sitton contributed 14 points. All total, the Buffs had five players in double figures with Mickey Woods scoring 12 and Morgan McLeod coming off the bench to score 11. Robinson also commented on the bench play of Chris Ellis who ended with six rebounds and Scott Blake who knocked down a pair of timely 3-point baskets.
The Cavaliers got most of their offense from LaBris Adams with 34 points and 11 rebounds, and Justin Ashford with 22 points.
However, Robinson was happy to see the way his team responded after one of the runs spurred on by Adams or Ashford.
“In conference games, especially rivalry games, it’s hard to blow out a rival,” Robinson said. “You know they’re going to make a run and come back. It’s one of those things you know it’s always going to be a dogfight and you have to make the free throws down the stretch for a good win.”
Eight of those free throws came from Woods, a sophomore point guard who wasn’t about to let the pressure get to him.
“I try to pride myself as a point guard at keeping my composure and keeping everyone else composed,” Woods said. “You could sense it in the place as soon as you walked in, there was tension on both sides. We take a lot of pride in winning these games, especially for coach.
“It’s a long season and coach reminded us of that in practice, and you’re going to have times when the team’s morale is down. But you have to pick up these wins like this and keep pushing.”
After a pep talk from coach Rich Aubrey at halftime, sophomore guard Kayla Kelly ended a career-high 29 points to lead the Lady Buffs (7-2, 2-0) over the Lady Cavs (8-2, 1-1).
“Coach told me at halftime that I started out aggressive, but midway through the first half, I started playing really tenative,” Kelly said. “When I came back out, I didn’t want to think about my shot. I just wanted to stroke it, get in a rhythm and take what the defense gave me. Tonight was a good night without me even thinking about what was going on. I just knew I had to do stuff in the winding minutes to push our team through.”
The Lady Buffs trailed 38-34 at the half and were down 58-52 before reeling off 13 straight points capped off by a Dorian Freeman lay up.
Freeman totaled 20 points, including 10 during the big run, and Jaimee Hill added 11, although it wasn’t a particularly good shooting night for Milligan which made just 24 of 71 shots (33.8 percent) from the field and just 5 of 21 from 3-point range.
Montreat dominated the boards with a 53-42 rebounding advantage, but the Lady Buffs more than made up for it by forcing 31 turnovers and committing just 12 turnovers themselves.
“One of the words I often write on the board before a game is pace,” Aubrey said. “The pace is something that works over the course of 40 minutes. I thought we did a good job of pushing the pace, especially being tired the second half, we stayed aggressive. We were aggressive the first half, then we became tenative at some point. But, we recaptured that and the entire second half, we were aggressive both offensively and defensively. That allowed us to dictate the tempo.”
The Lady Cavs did most of their damage in the post with Alexandria Gellman, Kaitlyn Clontz and Laticia Singleton all ending with 14 points.