Milligan early casualty with loss to Scots

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR CORRESPONDENT
mbirchfield@starhq.com

   BRISTOL, Va. -- Milligan saw its chances of being the postseason sleeper in the Appalachian Athletic Conference tournament slip away on Wednesday as last-seeded Covenant upset the Buffaloes 63-55 in the first round at Virginia High.
   "We're disappointed and I thought we broke down offensively and couldn't find the bucket, and it seemed to carry over defensively also," said Milligan coach Tony Wallingford.
   After just winning four games this season, Covenant caught the Buffaloes off guard in exploding out to a 20-point lead in the second half, which Milligan never recovered from.
   "We're a young team and everybody will be back next year, so this is another lesson we have to learn and we'll remember this and try to move on from it," said Wallingford.
   Milligan grabbed the early advantage 16-9 in the first half, with leading scorer Jonathan Harris dumping in six points and Marc Curry adding four.
   After going into an offensive slump with the half winding down, Covenant responded by going on a 14-5 run to put them up 30-25 at the break.
   Jeremy Mason was the spark for the Scots in the first half, as he finished with the game's high score of 22 points, shooting 10-of-17 from the field.
   Milligan's woes continued at the start of the second half as it took the Buffs more than five minutes before they captured their first basket, coming from Curry down low.
   "I felt good about coming into the tournament, but it just wasn't there for us tonight as far as a sustained effort and focus. We were not as physical or mentally executing at the level we needed to win," said Wallingford.
   A three-point goal by Mason with 10:11 left in regulation gave Covenant a commanding lead of 51-31, as Milligan was showing no life on the offensive or defensive end of the floor.
   "They came out and fought with us in the first half and then got the lead and it was hard for us to come out of it," Harris said. "We needed to hold our own at that one point in the game."
   In the last 10 minutes of the contest, the Buffaloes made a desperate run and cut the deficit down to five with 3:05 to go. It was a 17-2 run from Milligan which brought on a scrapping defense that denied the Scots from scoring more than a bucket in over a seven-minute stretch.
   "It was hard for us to catch back up with them, but once we cut the lead down we thought we had a chance at the game, but our shots didn't fall at the end," said Harris.
   Milligan banged the boards toward the later part of the second half, which limited the Scots to just one-shot opportunities.
   Craig Emmert led the Buffaloes off the glass to grab eight boards, along with Harris, who had seven.
   A basket inside from Emmert off a pass from Michael Morrell gave the Buffaloes some much-needed confidence, which was followed by scores from Todd Davis and Harris in the paint.
   A lay-up by Curry off a turnover from Covenant, and a free throw by JaKeith Hairston made it 53-48 and gave the Buffaloes some hope of a great comeback.
   "We were right there at the end, but the shots we had hit all year just didn't fall for us in the last few minutes," said Harris.
   The Scots still had the advantage of the contest being a two-possesion game with the time running out for Milligan.
   Covenant did a great job with its time management in the last two minutes, as it let the shot-clock wind down and came up with a couple of key offensive boards.
   "We've been in close situations all year and my guys don't know how to win, but the difference tonight was they came back but we held our own," said Covenant coach Lance Richardson.
   A score from Mark Lovrien down low off a loose ball pushed the margin up to eight with 1:05 left to play, which forced the Buffaloes to foul in the last minute.
   The Scots went 5-of-6 from the foul line to seal the victory and advance onto the second round, where they'll try to keep their Cinderella hopes alive.
   "Our free-throw shooting at Christmas wasn't where we wanted to be, so we worked on it, and I was glad to see Mark Wright was getting the free-throw line," Richardson said. "He shoots around 92 percent."