Milligan stays alive, tops VI in overtime

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF

   BRISTOL, Va. -- The Milligan-Virginia Intermont men's basketball game Wednesday night was very similar to the Tortoise and the Hare cartoon.
   It didn't seem possible for most of the game, but Milligan came through just like the tortoise did.
   The Buffaloes came from behind to defeat the Virginia Intermont Cobras 88-80 in an overtime thriller during opening-round play of the Appalachian Athletic Conference Tournament at Virginia High School.
   The Buffaloes fell behind 14-2 in the opening minutes, and played catch-up the for almost the rest of the night.
   "We dug a pretty deep hole there to start the game," Milligan head coach Tony Wallingford said. "We were a little confused as to why we weren't playing inspired there to start the game. Once I guess we got a little flame going, then we played."
   Milligan did not see its first lead until the final three minutes of regulation when Lance Ashby hit a trey with 3:06 to go in the second half. That put the Buffaloes on top 65-62.
   The Buffaloes held a 67-65 advantage with 1:35 to go before VI post Jon Odum nailed a jumper to tie the contest at 67-67.
   Milligan was definitely needing a basket, and they called on somebody who had been instrumental in keeping the Buffaloes in it throughout.
   Former Elizabethton standout Michael Morrell scored 22 points in this contest, but no shot was bigger than the jumper he made with 44.6 seconds left that put Milligan up 69-67.
   "You just try to create," Morrell said. "Time was running out, and Odum stepped up, went up, opened up, and it just kind of fell. And that's the way they go here at the end of the game. It's tournament time, and everybody's playing tough. Sometimes you play so tough you get those easy ones, and that was one that fell and we're just glad it fell."
   The Cobras had one last crack at it, and ended up succeeding after a lot of hard work. After four missed shots, Brad Watkinson tipped in a Myron Rogers miss to tie the contest at 69-69 with 6.2 seconds remaining.
   "We stood and watched," Wallingford said. "I don't know if we were waiting for the clock to run out. Sometimes that will happen. Also, guys are afraid of committing the foul in that situation. I just thought we were definitely leaning back on our heels maybe hoping the clock would run out instead of going after the basketball. That's another thing to learn from.
   If we're in a tight game tomorrow I hope we'll come through there."
   A.J. Hamler missed a desperation shot in the final seconds that would have won it for the Buffaloes.
   But the overtime was all Milligan. An Ashby bucket gave the Buffaloes a 77-72 advantage with 2:18 to go in the extra frame.
   Milligan pretty much iced the game with 24 seconds left when Morrell came up with a steal, and then dished it to Ashby for the lay-up to make it an 86-80 Milligan lead. The 'Buffs never looked back from there.
   Morrell knows what it's like to step up at tournament time, as his Elizabethton Cyclones advanced all the way to the Class AAA sectional tournament in 2000.
   Morrell knew what the situation was for Milligan.
   "It's good to have experience knowing if you don't win tonight, you go to the house," Morrell said. "That was a little extra push."
   Morrell really had the attention of the Cobras. He scored 10 points in the first six minutes of the second half, but was silent until the go-ahead jumper.
   That's when Ashby stepped up to make some key shots that kept the 'Buffs on the Cobras' heels until his three-pointer with 3:06 left finally put the Buffaloes on top.
   The Cobras were denying Morrell the ball, and this let the dangerous Ashby get open to hit some big shots.
   "The thing Michael's doing such a good job with is learning when he needs to step up and take shots," Ashby said. "Because teams do focus a lot on me and other players, and he's doing that. He's doing it when we need him to do it. It wasn't so much that he cooled off because he wasn't missing shots, he just didn't get the looks. They knew he had hit a couple, which enabled it to open up a little bit for me."
   Morrell did finish the night an incredible 8-of-10 from the field, and hit five three-pointers.
   Derrick Dyer came up big on the offensive glass for Milligan, as he finished up with 12 rebounds.
   Odum and Ty Sanders topped Virginia Intermont with 20 points.
   The Buffaloes will play second-seeded Bluefield at 4 p.m. today, and Wallingford know the 'Buffs will have to play their best to win.
   "They're definitely one of the most talented teams in the league," Wallingford said. "They're very athletic. We don't match up very well with them. We're going to have to play our best game, and we hope we can do that."