Buffs make loser out of first-place Cavs

By Matt Hill

STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   The Milligan College Buffaloes have lost many close games this year, so they were due to win a tight one.
   Not too many people would of expected it to happen Thursday night.
   The Buffs came up big down the stretch to upset Appalachian Athletic Conference leader Montreat 95-91 at Steve Lacy Fieldhouse.
   The Buffs, who have had bad luck all season long, finally had something go their way.
   Sure, Milligan did manage to blow a 24-point first half lead. But to the 'Buffs credit, they didn't give in when the going got tough.
   "We're very happy with the win," Milligan head coach Tony Wallingford said. "I think this is a good confidence builder for our guys. We've played so hard and have come up short, but tonight we were able to finish one out."
   The biggest play of the game might have been made by the smallest man on the court. After Michael Morrell hit his first of two free-throw attempts to push Milligan's slim lead out to 91-89 with 16.2 seconds left, Morrell missed his second and it looked like the Cavaliers were going to have a chance to tie or win the game.
   But Milligan point guard Roy Richmond put an end to those thoughts by coming up with a huge rebound. Richmond then pushed the basketball out to Craig Emmert.
   Emmert hit two free-throws to give Milligan what with only 12.2 seconds left in the game was a commanding 93-89 advantage.
   "I was actually surprised when he missed, because he is probably one of the best free-throw shooters we have," Richmond said of Morrell.
   "Jeremiah Tinch for them just tipped it and I got it, and I tried to get it out as quick as I could to another good free-throw shooter. I did."
   Emmert went back to the foul line with four seconds left after a Frankie Cantadore layup put the Cavs back to within two points. But Emmert was money again on both shots, and that secured the upset.
   "It's a big win for our program here," Emmert said. "We've got nine games left, and we need to start our streak here."
   Milligan may have made the plays at the end to secure the win, but it was the first 17 minutes of the game that saw the 'Buffs play their best basketball.
   The Buffs shot an incredible 69 percent in the first half from the field, compared to just 38 percent for Montreat.
   Milligan also shined from behind the arch by shooting 6-of-8 from three-point land.
   Milligan raced out to what seemed to be an insurmountable 47-23 lead with 4:23 to in the first half.
   The key cogs for Milligan were once again Jonathon Harris and Michael Morrell. Harris shot 7-of-11 in the first half, while Morrell went 6-of-9 from the field in the first 20 minutes.
   The 'Buffs went to Harris early and often inside during the first half. Milligan had 14 assists in the first half, with JaKeith Hairston pouring in six of those assists.
   "It hasn't been just this game, but it's been all year on the offensive end that they have tried to get me the ball." Harris said. "But tonight, we knew we had to go inside. Coach told us at the beginning of the game that we needed to go inside. If we get them on their heels inside, we're going to get them in foul trouble, and they're going to be tentative.
   And towards the end of the game that's what happened. They couldn't foul. Tinch couldn't foul, because he was scared of fouling out of the game. That's what we need to do, is power it inside."
   Milligan saw that lead slowly disappear towards the end of the first half. Montreat had cut Milligan's big edge down to 53-38 by the intermission.
   Montreat used a 20-of-29 performance from the field in the second half to creep back into the game, and eventually got to within one point in the final two minutes.
   But Milligan wasn't going to be denied, as the hunger to snap a four-game AAC losing streak showed with the big plays made.
   "I think tonight we were focused on the story of Michigan going 0-6, and now they're on a 13-game winning streak," Harris said. "That just really inspired us. Tonight we proved to ourselves that we can beat any team in the conference."
   Milligan was concerned about blowing the big lead, but the Buffs believe they will improve their focus as the season goes on.
   "We just need to stay focused on our defense and rebounding," Richmond said. "Coach told us when we came back in after halftime to work on our defense, and we tried that. Our team just didn't stay focused as much."
   Morrell finished as Milligan's leading scorer with 28 points, while Harris was close behind with 26. Craig Emmert added 12 points and six rebounds.
   Harris led Milligan in rebounds with eight.
   Ryan Cook and Cantadore had big games for Montreat, as they finished with 26 and 24 points, respectively.
   Montreat remains in first place at 10-2 in the conference and 13-8 overall. Milligan improves to 5-7 in AAC play and 9-12 overall.
   Milligan hosts AAC neighbor Virginia Intermont Saturday.