Milligan searching for answers

Jeff Birchfield • Jan 9, 2014 at 6:52 PM

At first glance, it doesn’t look good for the Milligan College men’s basketball team.If you count two exhibition contests, the Buffaloes have lost seven straight games after dropping a 73-72 decision Wednesday night to Virginia Intermont.However, a closer look reveals the Buffs are just a few plays off and a few seconds away from a two-game winning streak. Wednesday’s contest was the second straight game which went down to the buzzer.Morgan McLeod banked in a 3-pointer as time expired Saturday night, but his shot was ruled late and the Buffs lost at home 73-70 to Reinhardt.“We just need to get one stop,” Milligan coach Bill Robinson said. “We made a play (last Saturday) a half second after the buzzer. It’s sometimes hard to figure why you go through stretches like this. But it allows for teachable moments.”Milligan is 8-7 overall and 3-5 in the Appalachian Athletic Conference after the recent slide. With their last win coming back on Dec. 7 at Truett-McConnell, the Buffs are now at a crossroads.Still, Robinson is encouraging his team not to look back or even to look ahead. He wants them focused squarely on the task at hand.“We’re one day at a time right now,” he said. “We want to somehow find a way to get a little better every day. I’ve encouraged the guys not to look at the standings, not to look at the newspaper.”Despite the streak, there are positives.Milligan has been balanced in its scoring attack with five players averaging double figures.Mickey Woods leads the way at 13.9 points per game. Cartree Pettis has been scoring at a 13.3 clip, and McLeod is at 11.1 ppg. Torian Sitton is averaging 10.9 while Kurt Brooks is at 10 points even.Of those, Robinson feels Sitton, a 6-foot-4 senior, has to make a bigger impact on the offensive end, particularly down the stretch. He did make a pair of go-ahead free throws with 18 seconds left against VI, but the Cobras’ Ben Sealey, who had gone just 1-for-5 in the game, stepped up to hit the winning shot.Another number in Milligan’s favor is the fact the Buffs are outscoring opponents by an average of nearly five points per game. The Buffs have also made 33 more 3-point goals than their opponents, and have been better at sharing the basketball with nearly 50 more assists.They’ve been active on the defensive end with nearly 50 more steals, but all the numbers haven’t parlayed into wins.One reason has been struggles at the free-throw line where Milligan is hitting just 61 percent as a team. Robinson said it’s no accident that the guys struggling at the line are the same ones getting fouled at the end of ball games. With a smaller lineup than recent years, the Buffs are pressing and trapping on the defensive end, hoping those factors will lead to more rebounds.Still, Robinson is positive this team can move past the recent disappointments and be competitive the second half of the season.“I like this team a lot, both on and off the court,” Robinson said. “They bounce back quicker than we do as coaches. Literally 10 minutes after the game, they were sitting in the Burger King at Bristol laughing. They don’t like to lose, but they’re college kids and are able to move on quicker than we are. It’s not like we’re playing that poorly. It’s a process and we have to continue to fight.” ---The Milligan women also lost a heartbreaker to Virginia Intermont on Wednesday night.Despite 30 points from senior Kayla Kelly and 21 more from freshman Hayley Wyrick, the Lady Buffs were on the short end of a 93-87 overtime decision. At 10-7 overall and 6-3 in the league, they are still in the conference battle, but Wednesday’s loss dealt a definite blow to their title hopes.“Anytime you lose it hurts,” Milligan coach Rich Aubrey said. “The game in January means as much as the ones down the stretch. We still feel we’re in the thick of it, and we haven’t finished the first lap of the conference race. I think whoever wins our conference is going to have three, four and maybe five losses.”Like the men, the Lady Buffs have five players averaging double figures.Sophomore guard Allison Jones leads Milligan at 15.8 points per game. Kelly has posted 13.6 ppg and Wyrick is at 13.3 ppg.Robyn Anthony, who is a Chattanooga product like Kelly, has a 10.3 average, while Chelsey Weddle comes in with 10.1 ppg.“Our scoring has been distributed over the season,” Aubrey said. “Our problem is we’ve brought in so many new parts this season, and here it is in January and we’re still trying to put those parts together. We’re making progress, but that progress needs to show in pressure situations.”Weddle, a 5-foot-9 junior, has been one of the Lady Buffs’ best all-around performers. The former Hampton High School standout earned AAC Player of the Week honors back in early December after a 29-point and nine-rebound effort in an 81-66 win over Tennessee Wesleyan.Weddle has hit nearly 36 percent behind the 3-point line, although she has cooled off some in recent weeks. Earlier this season, she was hitting 57.1 percent behind the arc and at the time, led the entire nation in 3-point shooting.However, she brings other attributes to the team besides statistics.“She played on a banged-up knee last night, so her minutes were limited,” Aubrey said. “She brings that element of toughness to our team. She can play inside when she needs to, and outside when she needs to. It gives us options. When she’s not in there, we miss those options.”Both the men’s and women’s teams host the University of Virginia at Lynchburg on Saturday before diving head-on into the conference schedule.

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