By Josh Brown
Miami Valley Today
CLAYTON — Milton-Union boys basketball coach Rusty Berner knows first-hand what it takes to get to the district final. After all, he was on one of the Bulldogs’ last two teams to get there.
Saturday, his players showed that they’ve figured it out, too.
“The reality is, when you get in the tournament, you’ve got to play defense and take care of the ball — but players have to make plays,” Berner said. “And right now, our players are making plays.”
Sam Case and Blake Brumbaugh each scored 19 points and the Bulldog defense held Madison’s Grant Whisman — who scored a career-high 37 points the last two the two teams met — in check and held the Mohawks to a season-low point total as No. 10 Milton-Union upset No. 3 Madison 55-45 in the Division III district semifinal Saturday at Northmont High School.
Tuesday’s 61-25 win over Arcanum was the first time since the 2013-14 season that the Bulldogs had won a postseason game. Saturday’s win put Milton-Union (16-8) in the district final for the first time since 1999. Berner was on Milton-Union’s district finalist team in 1998, and assistant coach Christopher Fulton was on the 1999 team.
“We just told our kids in there that, to experience that as a player, being a Bulldog and wanting our kids to have that feeling again … it’s a pretty special thing,” Berner said.
And to do it against three-time defending Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye Division champion Madison, which finished the season 21-4, made it all the more special. The Bulldogs handed the Mohawks two of their four losses this season, splitting with them by winning at Madison 67-63 on Dec. 20, 2019 and falling at home 59-45 on Jan. 19.
“We have all kinds of respect for (Madison) coach (Jeff) Smith and his program. They are a class act,” Berner said. “We enjoy competing against them because they’re so well coached, they do so many things well, they’ve got great players. And we feel like we’ve got pretty good players, too. To play in an atmosphere like that against a great team and to come out and win, it’s just huge.
“I think it was big that we beat them earlier in the season. Our kids were confident. They knew we could do it again.”
And one of the keys to doing so again was containing Whisman, who scored 26 and 37 points in the two previous meetings. Saturday, the SWBL Buckeye Player of the Year was held to 13 points, including only three in the second half.
“I thought we did a tremendous job of limiting his post touches,” Berner said. “Anytime he touched it in the post, he had two or three guys swarming him. And even on the perimeter, the one clean look he got, he knocked down. Our bigs Andrew Lambert, Brandon Lavy and Nick Radcliff, you talk about kids that stepped up, committed to doing things for the team and stopping such a tremendous player. Great job for our kids to do that.”
That defensive effort led the Bulldog offense to a fast start, also, with Milton-Union jumping out to a 9-0 lead to begin the game and holding a 16-8 advantage after one. Madison put together a 9-0 run of its own in the second quarter, though, and was able to take a one-point lead at halftime, 25-24.
“We want to play at our tempo and dictate the pace,” Berner said. “We knew Madison was a team that could get out and run — but we wanted to make them run for four quarters. If kept comparing it to a long heavyweight bout, like in ‘Rocky IV’ — if we could make it this long game, try to wear them out and hope for the best. We were able to get out early and get some transition buckets.
“When they came roaring back, it was a lot of them getting back and getting transition buckets. We talked about whether or not to slow it down — and we were like, ‘nope. Let’s push faster.’”
And push the Bulldogs did. After a 3-pointer by Tristan Sipple gave Madison a 29-26 lead early in the third, Milton-Union went on a 13-0 run, with Case hitting two of his four 3s in the game and freshman Brumbaugh dropping in seven more points to give the Bulldogs a 39-29 lead. Sipple scored to end the run, but Blake Brumbaugh fed a cutting Nathan Brumbaugh for a layup at the buzzer to give Milton-Union a 10-point lead heading into the final quarter. From there, Milton-Union led by as many as 13, and Madison got no closer than nine the rest of the way.
“We did a great job of coming out at the half, not over-adjusting, trusting the process, what we felt like was going to give us the best chance to win,” Berner said. “Our kids executed and did a great job of executing the gameplan. I’m just happy for our kids.”
Blake Brumbaugh had eight rebounds and three assists to go with his 19 points, while Case had six rebounds, five steals and three assists to go with his. Nathan Brumbaugh added nine points, eight rebounds and three steals, Lavy added four points, eight rebounds and three assists and Lambert added four points.
Sipple led the Mohawks with 19 points and six rebounds, Whisman had 13 points and six rebounds, Jake Monafo and Jake Edwards each had four points, Tyler Murphy had three points and Matt Gomia scored two as the Bulldog defense held Madison to a 17-for-63 night (27 percent) from the field.
Now Milton-Union will face Deer Park, a district runner-up last season, in the district final at 2 p.m. Saturday at Butler High School. Deer Park defeated Clermont Northeastern 66-51 in the other district semifinal Friday night.
Contact Josh Brown at email@example.com, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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