By Josh Brown
Miami Valley Today
WEST MILTON — The Milton-Union boys basketball team has been on a long climb back up the past half-decade — but Friday night, it found itself playing for a chance to climb back into a tie for first place in the Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye Division.
“I told the guys, they were playing in an atmosphere like this, with these big league implications, and I thought we got ourselves right to the brink,” Milton-Union coach Rusty Berner said. “But in games like that, you’ve got to make those over-the-hill plays — whether it’s a rebound, a loose ball, knocking down a shot — and we missed those opportunities. We got close, but we couldn’t get over the hump.”
Madison’s Grant Whisman, the SWBL’s leading scorer, poured in a career-high 37 points Friday night, hitting four 3s and going a perfect 9 for 9 from the free throw line. And while Milton-Union was able to cut the lead to two points early in the fourth quarter, it just couldn’t quite get to the top of the mountain in a 59-45 loss at home to drop two games out of first place.
Milton-Union, which entered the week tied with Madison and Waynesville for the SWBL Buckeye lead, lost to Waynesville earlier this week and then Friday fell to 10-4 overall and 4-4 in the SWBL Buckeye. Madison, which has won the division two straight years, improved to 14-2 overall and 6-2 in the division, still tied with Waynesville.
In the end, the Bulldogs just didn’t have an answer for Whisman.
“Whisman’s pretty good, isn’t he?” Berner said. “He had 26 the first time and threw three or four guys at him. But when he’s hitting 22-footers with a guy in his face, and he’s 6-foot-7, there’s not a lot you can do. That’s why he’s going to play in college next year and is the best player in our league, maybe the best in our area.”
“I think it’s just a case of a team that’s been on top of the mountain for the past three years, and a team that’s right there, trying to get there, and just doesn’t have that experience right now.
In addition to his fifth 30-plus-point game of the season, Whisman added 11 rebounds for a double-double, helping the Mohawks outrebound the Bulldogs 36-26 on the night. That discrepancy was critical in Madison taking control early, too, as it outrebounded Milton-Union 10-5 in the first quarter to key a 16-0 run after the Bulldogs had scored the game’s first four points.
“In the first half, especially in the first quarter, we didn’t go to the glass. So we were one and done,” Berner said. “Our shot selection was okay, but the reality was they — I should say Whisman — knocked down shots, and we didn’t. I mean, he had 15 of their 21 in the first half.
“I don’t know that our looks were terribly different than theirs. They just knocked theirs down, and we weren’t getting second-chance points.”
The Bulldogs trailed 16-7 after the first quarter but remained in contention, down 21-14 at halftime. And even after a Whisman dunk on the opening possession of the second half, Milton-Union continued to battle, closing to within 40-35 heading into the fourth.
“As the game wore on, I thought we did a great job of climbing back in,” Berner said.
Nathan Brumbaugh then hit a 3 to open the final quarter and pull the Bulldogs to within two, and a hustle play by Nick Radcliff to save an offensive rebound from going out of bounds by diving and hitting it off of a Madison player gave the Bulldogs the ball with the chance to tie or take the lead. But a turnover cost them that chance, and Whisman scored inside to make it a four-point game again. Brandon Lavy answered with a jumper, but Madison’s Dontai Pendleton was able to grab an offensive rebound on the other end and hit a pair of free throws to make it a four-point game again, and Milton-Union got no closer than three the rest of the way.
“We got close, but then we’d come down and take a quick shot,” Berner said. “Then they go down to the other end and get an offensive board on a 50-50 ball. Both guys had an opportunity to go get it, and they just beat us to it.”
After Whisman’s 37, Jake Edwards added nine points and seven rebounds, Tristan Sipple added seven points, Turner Campbell had two points and five rebounds and Brogan Babcock and Pendleton each scored two.
Nathan Brumbaugh led the Bulldogs with a career-high 20 points — but he was the only Milton-Union player in double figures, where it had three in the first meeting, a 67-63 win at Madison. Blake Brumbaugh finished with eight points, all of them in the second half, Lavy added seven points and six rebounds, Justin Randall and Sam Case each scored four and Radcliff had two points and six rebounds.
Altogether, Milton-Union was 19 for 54 (35 percent) from the field and was 3 for 6 (50 percent) from the free throw line, while Madison was 20 for 45 (44 percent) from the field and 14 for 16 (88 percent) from the free throw line.
Milton-Union now travels to Brookville Saturday, ready to begin climbing again.
“From a league standpoint, we’ve got to hope for some help, but we’re 10-4 right now, and that’s not a place we’ve been in a long time,” Berner said. “Now the guys just have to regroup and keep trying to get better.
“Going into tonight, we were 10-3 and I felt like we’ve only played two complete games all year. We still have a lot of growth left in our guys, and these are experiences we’ve got to grow from.”
Contact Josh Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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