Second half dooms Buffs

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR STAFF
mbirchfield@starhq.com
A Milligan mini-slump continued on Thursday night at Steve Lacy Fieldhouse as the Buffs absorbed a 73-60 loss to Bluefield, their third defeat in a row.
After playing a close first half, the Buffaloes came out sluggish and fell behind by as many as 14 points in the first three minutes of the second half.
"We lost two out of three last week, which were tough losses, and we're certainly competing but not finishing right now," said Milligan coach Tony Wallingford. "We'll come back tomorrow and try to make this a seven-game season and attempt to make this thing close."
Milligan grabbed an early lead of 9-7 in the first four minutes, after a couple of baskets came from Craig Emmert.
Emmert led the Buffaloes on the evening in both scoring and rebounding, as he poured in 12 of his 18 points in the first half and grabbed six boards on the night.
Senior, Mitch Richmond knocked down a three-point goal to give the Buffaloes a 19-18 advantage, with neither team being able to get much of a cushion in the first 10 minutes.
Bluefield went on a 10-0 run in the next four minutes, as a couple of three-point goals from Devontae Royal gave the Rams a 28-19 lead with 6:16 left in the half.
"In the first half we came out and were pumped up, and then in the second half we let up and that's the way it's been for us all year," said Milligan guard Jordan Simmons. "For us to win, we're going to have to put all 40 minutes together and we're not doing that.
"We need some more guys to step up and help out."
Milligan came back answering the challenge by scoring the next 10 points, which came from Emmert and Jonathon Harris, to take a slim margin of 29-28 with three minutes left to play.
Bluefield then scored six straight points before Emmert knocked down a couple of free throws with one second remaining in the half.
"I thought the end of the half was a momentum swing. We let them get some easy baskets and they went up, but I certainly thought we were up to the challenge at halftime," said Wallingford.
The Buffaloes trailed just 34-31 at the half, but a slow start in the second saw them dig themselves a hole which they never recovered from.
"We got behind several times, and they had an 11-0 run to start the second half," said Wallingford. "We got it down to nine but never cracked it or made a serious run. I think we lacked focus at both ends of the floor."
The first 11 points came from the Rams, as a fastbreak basket by Corey Wade gave them a 45-31 lead with 17:06 left in regulation.
Bluefield had four different players to reach double digits in scoring, with Mookie Holmes leading the way with 16 points. He also grabbed eight rebounds.
It wasn't until the 16:40 mark that Milligan acquired its first point, which came off a free throw from Harris.
Milligan looked to rally after Simmons nailed back-to-back three-point goals to cut the deficit down to 11.
"We came out the second half and we were just flat," said Simmons. "You can't blame it on the coaches or anybody else -- it was just us.
"We weren't executing on defense, or we didn't swing the ball like our coach talked about at halftime." "We've got to play on both ends, and we were just getting beat on defense and not helping, which let them get some easy lay-ups."
The Buffaloes continued throughout in trying to chip away at the Bluefield lead, but it was Bluefield which was winning the battle in pushing the ball down the court.
"We certainly talked about getting back on defense at halftime, but somehow I didn't make that clear enough to them and what we had to do to stop them," said Wallingford.
A steal and pass from Eric Coggins to Scott Ferguson shrank the margin down to 53-44 with 10:55 left to play.
This was as close as the Buffaloes came, as Bluefield did an excellent job in moving the ball and finding the open shot to hand Milligan the defeat.
"I'll take the blame -- we were not ready to play or focused," said Wallingford. "They set an example for our team to look at. They moved the ball around and found the open man and played good team defense."
Harris finished the game with 14 points, while Simmons added nine by hitting three of four from the three-point line.