By Todd Hummel
For The Daily Item
Gene Bruno told his Milton boys basketball team before Monday’s Heartland Athletic Conference Division I game with Jersey Shore that if they could keep the score in the 40s and 50s by controlling the pace of play, his Black Panthers would have a good chance to avenge a 12-point loss earlier this season to the Bulldogs.
And for a half, Bruno’s team executed the game plan perfectly, leading by four points at the break (28-24) and keeping the pace to Milton’s liking.
“(Jersey Shore) likes to score a lot of points and they like to get out and run in transition. We were able to control the pace of play by running good offensive sets and being disciplined,” Bruno said. (Jersey Shore) wants to get out of the gate and get up by 12 or 15 points quickly.”
However, like the best laid plans, Milton’s game plan went out the window in the second half. But it turns out the faster pace (92 combined points) suited the Black Panthers as well.
Five players scored in double figures, led by Ethan Baker’s 20 points, and Milton hit eight of its 11 3-pointers in the second half as the Black Panthers earned a measure of revenge over the Bulldogs with a 75-69 victory.
“I told (the radio station before the game) that we are a team that has potential to shoot 32 percent on any given night,” Bruno said. “We are not a great offensive team. (Jersey Shore) scored 80 points against Danville the other day. I told my kids if we could keep this game in the 40s and 50s, we would win.
“I blew that one,” Bruno smiled.
The teams have now split the season series and appear headed for a first-round matchup in the District 4 Class AAA playoffs in a few weeks as both squads are 13-8.
The Black Panthers got off to a strong start in the first half, opening up an 11-point lead with 2:14 left in the first half after Travis Krall scored five in a row, including a corner 3, to give Milton a 25-14 advantage.
Krall went to the bench with his second foul and Jersey Shore big man Ryan Eck scored six consecutive points and Jacob Butzer’s conventional three-point play got the Bulldogs back to 28-24 at the half.
The Bulldogs’ run continued into the third quarter. It eventually turned into a 23-7 run and Stephen Baier’s bucket with 3:56 left in the third quarter gave Jersey Shore a 37-32 lead.
That’s when Milton got hot from behind the arc. Its final five baskets in the third quarter all came from behind the arc, by four different players. Logan Feltman’s 3 late in the third sent Milton into the final quarter with a 47-45 lead.
The Black Panthers looked to be in trouble when Krall went to the bench with 5:48 left in the game with his fourth foul, but this time Shawn Rishel came off the bench and hit two 3-pointers, the last giving Milton a seven-point advantage (59-52) with less than four minutes to go. Rishel finished with 10 points, including three 3’s.
“Shawn Rishel played big minutes. We recognized the big guy (Eck) wasn’t coming out,” Bruno said. “Shawn isn’t a big rebounder and he isn’t going to play great man-to-man defense, but he’s got a great outside shot. He got some good looks and he knocked them down.”
Eric Huling would hit a 3 to cut the lead to four, but Wade Heidel converted two layups against the press, while Baker hit eight consecutive foul shots in the final 40 seconds to clinch the win.
In addition to his 20 points, Baker also had seven assists. Krall finished with 16 points and eight rebounds. Heidel had 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
Brody Smith and Eck each finished with 16 points to lead Jersey Shore. Smith scored all of his points in the second half, while Eck had a game-high 15 rebounds.