Hamler shot ends Buff's slide

By Allen LaMountain
ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR

   They say there is treasure at the bottom of a rainbow, and on Thursday night at Steve Lacy Fieldhouse, what the Milligan College Buffaloes will treasure is the end of their six-game losing streak.
   Senior guard A.J. Hamler tossed up a rainbow from 37 feet, which found the bottom of the net as the buzzer sounded, to give Milligan an 88-85 win over Virginia Intermont.
   The win improves Milligan's record to 8-13 overall and 5-8 in the Appalachian Athletic Conference, while the Cobras fell to 11-16, 6-9 AAC.
   "The team effort for this win began after Tuesday night's loss to Tusculum," said Hamler. "We had a good practice yesterday and carried it over to this game. It was a matter of us showing some heart and stopping them. I expected this kind of game. In fact I expected a lot more lead changes."
   Milligan mostly led throughout, pulling ahead by as many as 13 points in the second half at 61-48, only to see the Cobras strike back like their namesakes with a 10-2 run to close the gap to 63-58 at the midway point of the second half.
   The Buffs were led in the first half by Michael Morrell's 10 points, along with a surprising 9-point first half by senior post James Howard, and eight points from freshman forward Craig Emmert.
   The Cobras Derrick Kaufman -- a razor thin George Gervin look-alike -- showed tremendous athletic ability on a number of dunks and scored 12 of his game-high 30 points in the first half as Virginia Intermont stayed within shouting distance of the Buffs at 44-37 at the break.
   The second half belonged to Milligan senior wing Lance Ashby, who tallied 21 of his team-high 25 points in the second half, but felt that it was the Buffs' attention to defense that was the turning point.
   "We had to turn it up a notch defensively, because they are just so much better athletes," Ashby said. "We knew that coming in that it would be a tight game. It was very similar to the game we played up there."
   Milligan led 71-61 at the eight-minute mark of regulation when VI went on another quick tear -- and at the 4:37 mark had closed to 75-70. After a three-point play by forward Jon Odem and a pair of free throws by Kaufman, the Cobras now trailed by just a bucket at 77-75.
   "We made a heck of a run at it," said Cobras head coach Phil Worrell. "We won a miracle game at our place and they won one here. I believe that Milligan is a timebomb waiting to go off. They are capable of beating anyone in the conference. I'm sure that the effort of us having to come back so many times wore our guys down a bit, but then we made our biggest run in the second half."
   A bucket by Ty Sanders knotted the score at 77, but Morrell came up big by knocking down a trey to give the Buffs an 80-77 advantage. Odem and Chris Wise sandwiched deuces around and Ashby bucket, making it an 82-81 game before Ashby found the range on a three to give Milligan an 85-81 lead.
   Odem then canned two free throws, and after a steal scored on a layup to tie the game at 85-85 with 34 ticks left.
   From there, VI played tenacious defense, forcing Milligan to nearly throw the ball away. Roy Richmond saved it from the sideline and called timeout with precious few seconds remaining.
   Emmert found Hamler with the inbounds pass and Hamler let it fly to its inevitable splashdown.
   "We got a break tonight and made the most of it," said Buffs head coach Tony Wallingford. "Lance hit a couple big jumpers in the second half for us and we needed that. I told our guys that if we hadn't battled and fought a little bit tonight we wouldn't have even been in position to win at the end."
   Women
   Virginia Intermont..................57
   Milligan College....................54
   The ladies' contest was as tense and hard-fought as the men's, but it was the visitors who took the victory as the Lady Cobras prevailed behind balanced scoring from the depleted squad.
   Kelly Salyer led all scorers with 16 points, but it was a team effort that saw all eight members of coach Heather Conley's score at least two points.
   "We're down to eight with all the injuries we have had," said Conley. "But this is something that we have been dealing with all year."
   After trailing 26-24 at the break Milligan finally pulled in front on the strength of a trey by Kristen Kirkvliet at the 3:02 mark. The Lady Cobras finished very strong at the free throw line, which was the difference as Salyer canned both ends of a one-and-one, but Miranda Greene answered at the other end for Milligan.
   That would be the last tally of the evening for the Lady Buffs however, as they turned the ball over once and missed on two other shots in a mad scramble under the hoop.
   Salyer hit one of two from the charity stripe and Brandi Owens canned two more free throws for a 57-54 VI lead.
   Some tough defense by the Lady Cobras didn't give Milligan an open look at a three as the horn sounded.
   Milligan fell to 8-15 overall and 5-8 in the AAC, while the Lady Cobras improved their mark to 7-16 (4-10 AAC).
   "The key for us was that we made some changes defensively in the second half," said Conley. "We made our free throws down the stretch and started taking the ball strong inside."
   For Milligan head coach Rich Aubrey, it has been a season of ups and downs, but you can never count his team out at tournament time.
   Aubrey said of his team's play on the season: "We have won some close ones and lost some close ones, and tonight was one we lost. We left the game on the floor with some layups we needed to make, and we shot just six-for-12 from the free throw line. There's still a ways to go. A lot can happen and I try to emphasize getting better every game, and I think we are doing that."