One team shot poorly, and both teams were plagued by turnovers. The Milton-Union Bulldogs and Covington Buccaneers played a strange game Tuesday night, but the Bulldogs hit key free throws and got one last stop at the buzzer to collect their first win of the season.
Covington — It was not, as Covington coach Matt Pond said, a pretty game.
The 49th meeting between the Buccaneers and Milton-Union Bulldogs went back and forth for 32 minutes, as both teams missed opportunities and gave away chances to seal a victory.
Milton took control with a 10-0 run to start the second half, hit some key free throws down the stretch, and held on for a 36-33 win over the Buccaneers, Milton’s first in five games under head coach Mike Piatt.
“It’s a great first win,” said Piatt. “We are really young and we are learning as we go. We made a lot of mistakes, but I thought we made a lot of gutty plays down the stretch, hit some key free throws, and defensively we were pretty darn good. You hold someone to 33 points, you give yourself a chance and we did that tonight.”
“I thought we missed a lot of opportunities in the first half,” said Covington coach Matt Pond. “I know it’s a cliché, but if you let a team hang around, that’s what can happen. They took 11 shots in the first half, and we were up three. We didn’t take advantage of the opportunities we had early.”
The Bulldogs entered the game averaging less than 40 points a game, but jumped in front early. Three pointers by William Morris and Caleb Wintrow gave the ‘Dogs an 8-3 advantage, and they still lead 10-8 after a quarter.
Covington never really got its offense in gear, but five points by Zach Parret off the bench and a basketful of Milton turnovers had the Buccs in the lead at the half, 17-14.
“Zach had a nice game off the bench and that was good to see,” Pond said about the 6-3 junior who finished with 10 points. “Nathan (Blei) scored 14 but Trevor (Miller) and Jayce (Pond) both struggled. When that happens, it’s going to be a mud-slinging-type of game. That’s what’s disappointing, because we know we can play better than that.”
The Buccs, who missed their first 7 shots in the first half, went scoreless for more than four minutes in the third quarter as Milton went on a 10-0 run to take control. Morris had 7 points in the quarter, Wintrow hit another three, and the Bulldogs limited the Buccs to five points in the period.
“We told our kids at halftime, just run our stuff,” explained Piatt. “A lot of our turnovers in the first bhalf were unforced. When we executed and didn’t turn the ball over, we got really good shots. So we just went over what we wanted to do and stressed taking care of the ball, which obviously we have to work on.”
It was the Bulldogs’ turn to go scoreless for the first half of the fourth quarter, but Covington could not take advanrage. Morris hit a pair of free throws down the stretch, and Daniel Albaugh was 3 of 4 late.
The Buccs still had a chance with 6 seconds left,trailing by three, but Trevor Miller’s three attempt from the left corner bounced off the rim.
“I usually like to foul in that situation with a veteran team,” said Piatt. “But we don’t have a veteran team and we haven’t practiced that. You know, he got a good look and about halfway there I thought it might go in. Then when it didn’t…just great for our kids.”
Unofficially, Milton took just 23 shots from the floor and made 11 for 48% . The Buccs never found the range,making 11 of 43 for a ghastly 26%. In catch-up mode most of the second half, Covington unofficially went 1 for 12 behind the arc and finished 2 of 21 from long range for the game.
The game was decided at the foul line. Milton was 9 of 11 in the second half, and 11 of 15 for the game. The Buccs also shot well at the stripe, making 10 of 12, but the Bulldogs hit the key shots down the stretch.
The Bulldogs out-rebounded Covington 21-15, and had a whopping 26 turnovers to the Buccs 15, 11 of which came in the second half.
“The little things hurt us tonight,” lamented Pond after the Buccs fell to 5-4 with their second straight loss. “Fundamentals. We talked about it after the game. Somehow, this game has to make us better. We have to be fundamentally sound to win, and we weren’t tonight.
“Milton is better than their record. They haven’t played a lot of games, but they did the right things tonight. They had the right kids taking the right shots at the right times, and that’s a tribute to Mike (Piatt) and his staff.”
Morris led the Bulldogs with 12 points and drew praise from his coach.
“It’s obvious. William is going to be a very good player for us. We forget he’s 15 years old. He doesn’t have his (driver’s) license yet. He’s a sophomore. But we rely on him. I had the ball in his hands all night long. Caleb Wintrow, another sophomore, made his first start tonight and played well. We have some good players, but we have to grow up. This tape will be a lot more fun to watch when I get home tonight after a win.
“Too many turnovers, obviously,” Piatt concluded. “That’s something we have to work on. We don’t have a good understanding of score and time at times, but you have to play through that and learn. You don’t know how to play with the lead late in a game until you are in that situation. It’s a good win, and the kids needed it.”