Clinging to a one-point lead and less than 10 seconds left, it appeared that the Milligan College men’s basketball team needed one final stop against Montreat on Wednesday night.
It turns out they needed two.
With less than five seconds left, Cartree Pettis made a steal on the defensive end and raced down the court, only to miss a lay-up. With Montreat coming up with the ball in a scramble, the Cavaliers had another shot at the win.
No problem for Milligan as Mickey Woods had another steal in the final second and the Buffaloes held on to a 77-76 victory.
The Buffs improved to 10-7 overall and 4-5 in the Appalachian Athletic Conference. Montreat fell to 11-8 and 5-4.
“It’s just all about the next play,” Woods said. “If you miss a stop, you get it back. That’s basically what we did.”
Woods’ play was a major relief for Pettis, who thought he had gone from hero to goat in a matter of moments.
“I was real nervous and as soon as I got near the rim, the ball slipped out of my hands,” Pettis said. “I thought, ‘This is not going to be good.’ I’m definitely the most relieved person in this building. I’m glad my teammates had my back.”
It proved the old adage true that defense wins games.
After Milligan scored 52 points in the first half, the second half was a grind with just 25 points. The game’s last score came off a James Songster layup with 2:14 left in the game.
The Buffs shot just 27 percent from the field in the second half, but held a Montreat team leading the nation in offense to just 40 percent.
“Defensively, you need stops especially when you’re not shooting the ball well,” Milligan coach Bill Robinson said. “We went through a stretch where we didn’t even get a shot for four or five possessions. But defensively, we did a really good job. They’re No. 1 in the country in field goal percentage and we hold them to 40 percent in the second half. It’s the difference in the game.
“It was a test of wills. They wanted to score and we can’t score at the rate they want to.”
Overall, Milligan forced 27 turnovers with 16 of them steals. Pettis led the way with seven steals to go along with a team-best 16 points on the offensive end.
Torian Sitton and Songster finished with a dozen points each, while Morgan McLeod had 10 points.
Down 13-7 early, the Buffs scored nine straight points finishing with Chris Ellis’ dunk for a 16-13 lead.
Leading the rest of the first half, Milligan had another crowd-pleasing dunk on a 3-on-1 break when Pettis flipped the ball to a trailing Torian Sitton for a two-handed slam.
Leading 52-43 at the break, Milligan stayed in control the early part of the second half, taking a double-digit lead (61-51) on free throws by Morgan McLeod and Torian Sitton.
Those free throws by McLeod were the result of a technical foul against Montreat coach Alan Wilson. However, the scenario fired up the Cavs who scored 13 straight points to take its first lead since the opening minutes of the game.
“I’m OK with the technical if it motivates our team,” Wilson said. “We needed something to get us going. I wasn’t happy with the officials as it was, so I let them hear about it.”
After the Cavs’ big run, it was nip-and-tuck the rest of the way with Milligan posting a five-point lead on two occasions, only to see Montreat tie. La’Bris Adams gave the Cavs a 76-75 lead before Songster’s winning score.
Josh Foster of Montreat led all scorers with 19 points. Adams added 14 in the loss.