By Jon Gerardi
The Daily Item
DANVILLE -- The players on Milton's bench stood in unison and cheered along with the fans seated directly behind them as soon as Wade Heidel's 3-pointer cut the Black Panthers' deficit to single digits.
Less than 15 seconds later, that excitement was tempered by Danville's Jeff Vitunac, who hit a putback to again give the Ironmen a 10-point lead.
From there, Danville gradually increased its lead and held Milton without a single basket over the remaining 3:41 for a 73-55 win Friday night at Danville High's Whitey McCloskey Center.
Milton (2-4, 0-3 HAC-I) battled back from a 20-point halftime deficit to make it an interesting game. Heidel (15 points) sank a trey with 5:37 to play in the fourth to make it a seven-point margin, the closest Milton came to a lead since the end of the first quarter.
Danville (1-1, 1-0) kept its distance with free throw shooting and eventually put the game out of reach with two minutes to play, leading by 16. The Ironmen scored just four baskets from the floor in the fourth quarter, as their remaining 14 points came from the charity stripe.
The win was Danville's 28th consecutive league win, a streak that dates to the 2010-11 season.
"I said at the half, 'We got to come out and maintain our energy and not let them match (ours),'" Danville coach Lenny Smith said. "They came out and took it to us in the second half. Our outside shot went south a little bit, but we regained our composure and held on."
That outside shot was mostly Austin Renz, who seemed to be incapable of missing from downtown as he drained a team-high seven treys, six in the first half. The senior ended the night with a team-high 30 points.
"That's what he does. He's done that a couple times in JVs. He's came out firing and he really kick starts us," Smith said. "He's confident in that shot and we're confident in him taking that shot."
Zach Kozick added 10 points for Danville, including a team-high four steals and five assists, while Shayne Riley and Phil Stemm each scored eight.
The Black Panthers kept the game close in the first quarter, trailing by just three after Riley went 1-for-2 at the line with 1 second left.
From there, Danville took advantage of Milton's offensive lull, as the Ironmen went on a 13-0 run to build a 15-point lead before the Black Panthers finally scored in the second quarter with 5:20 to play.
"They were taking the shots that we wanted them to take and they went in. Reason being, I wanted to keep them away from the boards playing that defense," Milton coach Gene Bruno said. "The game was probably lost because of (rebounding) down the stretch because we weren't getting some rebounds that we should have had when we had it cut. Lets call a spade a spade: we had it to seven and the next six, seven (Danville) points were from the foul line."
The Black Panthers had just eight offensive rebounds in the loss.
Milton did an effective job sharing the ball as four players scored in double figures. Travis Krall led the team with 17 points while also grabbing eight rebounds before fouling out with just under a minute to play. Ethan Baker added 12 points and Logan Feltman scored 10.
One key for the Ironmen was keeping the ball out of Milton's hands and maintaining possession.
"If we slow the ball down, we're a good basketball team. We rushed some things, turnovers here and there, (and) they started making some shots and -- all of a sudden -- it dwindled to 10 points, seven points," Renz said. "You just have to be careful. Just got to calm yourself down and make sure you get possessions and take some time off the clock."