By Jon Gerardi
The Daily Item
Steve DeLong knows the importance of not letting a lead slip away. He saw his Black Panthers surrender a 15-point lead Friday to Mifflinburg and nearly lose that game.
So once Milton opened a big lead against Midd-West, the Black Panthers coach knew his team had to stay focused and not let up.
A 10-point lead quickly became 20 and Milton never looked back as the Black Panthers rolled past Midd-West, 66-17, in “The Jungle” at Milton High School on Tuesday night in a HAC-I matchup.
Midd-West (2-5, 0-3) struggled offensively in the first half. The Mustangs scored just once in the first quarter at the 3:25 mark which followed five straight scoreless possessions. Milton (6-4, 3-1) used that misfortune to build a 10-point lead within the first 3:50 of the game, and forged a 20-point lead by quarter’s ended.
“I told them that’s what we needed to do; we needed to get off to a fast start,” DeLong said. “We needed to play to our ability and do what we needed to do against Midd-West and we did that. We executed offensively; we got stops; we did everything I expected us to do.”
Midd-West shot a bit more than 13 percent in the first half and ended the night shooting about 14 percent. Kahill Brooker led the Mustangs offense with seven points and added five boards. Brooker also had Midd-West’s only steal and assist of the game.
Meanwhile, the Black Panthers scored with ease, shooting just less than 47 percent for the game.
“They were putting their shots in the basket and we weren’t. That’s the whole game right there,” Midd-West coach Brent Bobb said. “They were hitting their shots and we weren’t. We were putting up junk and it wasn’t going in, obviously, because it was junk. We were allowing them to take almost uncontested shots and they were hitting them.”
Michael Jacobs and Chad Diggan combined for 37 points, and the duo helped spark Milton’s offense. The Black Panthers used a 23-0 run across the second and third quarters to build a 45-point lead.
Milton also had runs of 10-0, 12-0, 10-3, and ended the game on a 7-0 run.
The Black Panthers drained eight 3-pointers. Jacobs hit four, scoring more than half his 23 points from beyond the arc, and Diggan sank two.
“We shot the ball like I think we’re capable of. We haven’t really been showing that recently,” DeLong said. “I thought we probably executed our offense the best that we have this year and, the last few games, teams have been hitting (baskets) because we haven’t scored. (Tuesday) we kind of got out of that.”
The Black Panthers out-rebounded Midd-West, 31-20, and used it to get second-chance baskets and increase their lead. The Mustangs turned the ball over 12 times in the loss and Milton recorded 10 steals, four coming from Ethan Baker (nine points). The Black Panthers had just three turnovers.
“We played pretty sound defense. Our main goal is to get stops and forcing turnovers isn’t necessarily one of our priorities with how we play at times, but we didn’t turn the ball over,” DeLong said. “We took care of the ball, we got great shots every time and that was a big reason we got out to the lead that we did.”
Midd-West’s best quarter was an eight-point effort in the second. Going into the half, Milton led by 29 and had a 50-point lead with 3:06 to play. The Mustangs’ largest deficit was with 1:27 left when Milton led by 52.
“I’m not taking it away from them — they’re a good team — but they’re not as good as we allowed them to be, that’s for sure. No question about it,” Bobb said. “They’re still a good team. They’re a good shooting team. They’re quick, they’re big (and) they’re good shooters ... but they’re not 50 points (better).”
The Mustangs never got closer than when Colton Keister scored with 3:25 to play in the first quarter, cutting Milton’s lead to 10-2. Milton then used a 12-0 run to put the Mustangs in a 19-point hole by the next time they scored.