By Josh Brown
WEST MILTON — For first-year Milton-Union boys basketball coach Mitch Westerheide, it was the kind of game that — despite his youth — had the potential to add some gray hairs.
Covington coach Matt Pond, though, has seen similar things plenty already — just this season.
The Bulldogs and Buccaneers battled back and forth through regulation and two overtimes Tuesday night, with the lead changing hands five times in that second extra period alone, including three times in just the final 18 seconds. In the end, though, a coast-to-coast layup by sophomore A.J. Lovin with 4.9 seconds remaining gave Milton-Union the lead for good in a thrilling 62-61 victory over Covington at home.
Milton-Union, which won the first of its three total victories last season in another nail-biter against Covington, improved to 2-7 with the win.
However, when Covington’s Chad Yohey hit a 3-pointer to break up a tie game and give the Buccs a 58-55 lead with less than 30 seconds remaining, things looked dire. But Lovin took the ball coast to coast for an easy layup, then Ryan Moore stole the ensuing in-bounds pass and converted a three-point play to put the Bulldogs up 60-58 with 18 seconds left.
The Buccs quickly answered, though, as Zach Parrett drove to the basket for a three-point play of his own to put Covington back on top 61-60 with 12.4 seconds left — only to have Lovin go the length of the floor for a layup to put Milton up by one with 4.9 seconds left. Daniel Albaugh intercepted a desperation in-bounds pass at half court and missed a pair of free throws with 2.7 seconds left, the second one on purpose to allow time to disappear before the Buccs could get off a shot, sealing the win.
“You mentioned those gray hairs?” Westerheide said with a laugh when asked what went through his head during the final 30 seconds. “I was going up and down, had the anxiety going. But then Ryan Moore, a senior who at times plays a lot and at times doesn’t, it’s just a testament to his focus and determination to step up and make a play. I’ve been asking my guys for someone to step up — and A.J. did that, as well.
“A.J. kept attacking. We tell him to always attack, since he’s hard to guard one-on-one. And you saw it there. He made a big play, stepped up in crunch time, and we got that lead back.”
The Buccs, meanwhile, fell to 3-7 on the season — with three games being decided by only one point and four by less than three points, with Covington now going 2-2 in those close games. And Pond wasn’t looking at any of the plays in overtime as the deciding factors in the game. He pointed to his team’s 13 second-half turnovers that helped the Bulldogs erase an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit in the first place.
“The bottom line is that we just didn’t handle their press very well,” Pond said. “We had a lot of what I felt were unforced errors. This is a game that shouldn’t have come down to the last shot — and I’m not taking anything away from them. Give them credit for making that shot. Each team made made big plays, but for us it comes down to being able to defend. And we just can’t give up a three-footer in that situation.
“This was two teams struggling for wins right now. And in the end, they made one more play than we did.”
The story of the Bulldogs’ season thus far has been that one bad stretch has doomed them in each of their losses. And, after taking a 14-7 lead after the first quarter, history seemed to be repeating itself as Covington went on a 10-0 second-quarter run and, spurred by 12 points during that eight minutes by Braden Miller, took a 28-20 halftime lead.
“We’ve been talking about our focus lately, and the peaks and valleys we’ve been going through,” Westerheide said. “We always have one quarter where it seems to get to us. We had that today, but the kids kept fighting. The difference was that we committed to the defensive end, and that’s what got us those easy buckets late.”
Covington maintained its advantage through the third quarter, leading 37-31 going into the fourth and taking a 39-31 lead with the first bucket of the final quarter of regulation. But the Bulldog defense forced eight fourth-quarter turnovers, with Nathan Brumbuagh giving Milton-Union a 44-41 lead with a steal and three-point play with 4:39 left in regulation. The Buccs tied the score at 46-46 with 1:17 left, though, and neither team could get a quality chance to win the game from there, sending it to overtime.
The Bulldogs took a 51-50 lead late in the first overtime on a bucket by Aaran Stone, but the big man fouled out shortly after, and Miller hit the second of two free throws to tie the score and send the game to another overtime, paving the way for the crazy finish.
“I liked our chances (after Yohey’s 3 gave us a 58-55 lead),” Pond said. “But you’ve still got to come back and play defense. Their kid lays it in, we enter the ball and turn it over on our end and they get the lead. You just can’t do that. That was a crucial point in the game — but their press gave us fits all night, and it shouldn’t have come down to that. We didn’t take care of the ball earlier in the game. The bottom line is that we’ve got to take better care of the basketball.”
Miller finished with a game-high 21 points for the Buccs, who travel to Tri-County North Friday night for the fourth game of a five-game road trip. Bradley Wiggins added 11 points, Parrett had nine points and six rebounds and Nathan Lyle had eight points. Tyler Frayley scored five points, Yohey finished with four and Gray Harshbarger had three.
William Morris led the Bulldogs with 14 points and added eight assists and four steals, while Lovin had 13 points off the bench and Albaugh had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds alone with five steals and four assists. Stone added nine points and seven rebounds, Moore and Blake Ullery scored five points apiece, Brumbaugh scored three and Caleb Wintrow scored two.
The Bulldogs host Carlisle Friday.
“In our last game, we were winning at the half against Oakwood, but we had that one bad quarter. Hopefully this is a culture-changing win for us,” Westerheide said. “Hopefully the kids learn that when they’re down, they can keep fighting back. It’s a testament to their character. The coaches have seen it in them all year, and I think they’re starting to see that the game’s never over if they keep fighting.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.