By Todd Hummel
For The Daily Item
The Milton boys basketball program has gone from a perennial District 4 contender to a doormat in recent seasons in the Heartland Athletic Conference-Division I.
However, this year’s edition of the Black Panthers is looking to return the luster to the program. Friday night they made it clear they are going to be a team to reckon with in the HAC-I and District 4 Class AAA playoffs.
Michael Jacobs scored 13 of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter as the Black Panthers downed Shikellamy 60-56 at the Field House.
“This is a huge win for our program. We’ve been winning close games all year,” Milton coach Steve DeLong said. “(Shikellamy) has really pounded on us the last couple of years and people aren’t going to think we are back until we beat some of these teams.”
“This was a big win,” Jacob said. “We didn’t give up and kept coming back.”
Milton (7-4 overall, 4-1 HAC-I) had its chances to give the game away to a Shikellamy team that entered the game undefeated in league play and facing a huge showdown on the road on Tuesday night at Danville. However, Jacobs’ scoring in the fourth quarter and ball pressure by the Black Panthers spoiled Shikellamy’s plans.
“We knew we had to turn up the defensive pressure,” Jacobs said.
The Braves (6-5, 4-1 HAC-I) fell behind 11 points in the opening minutes of the game, but battled back to take a five-point advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
Jacobs got Milton rolling with a steal and a three-point play to cut the lead to 40-38. After a 3-pointer by Shikellamy’s Derek Amerman, Jacobs answered with one of his own and Ethan Baker added a driving hoop to tie the game at 43 with 6:34 left in the game.
Shikellamy took another four-point lead thanks to Zach Herbster in the high post against a 2-3 zone, one of the few possessions the Black Panthers didn’t play man. Herbster found Taylor Mantz for a layup and then converted a hoop of his own to give the Braves a 47-43 lead with 5:34 left in the game.
Milton rallied as Baker hit another driving basket, and Jacobs scored five points in a row, including a 3-pointer to give the Black Panthers a 50-47 lead with 3:35 to play.
Mantz had seven consecutive points for the Braves, including a three-point play with 1:15 showing to tie the game at 54. Milton, though, gave the Braves a taste of their own pick-and-roll medicine as Baker and Chad Diggan ran it to perfection with 40 seconds left in the game. Diggan’s bucket made it 56-54.
Milton’s defense then forced a turnover and Jacobs converted two foul shots with 27 seconds left for a 58-54 lead. After Shikellamy turnover, Jacobs missed the front end of a one-and-one and C.J Tyler hit two free throws with nine seconds left to cut the lead to two. But Diggan hit two fouls shots with seven seconds left to push the lead back to four.
“We did everything right in the fourth quarter,” DeLong said. “We executed defensively; we executed in transition; and we executed in our half-court offense.”
Milton shot 9-of-12 in the final stanza and forced five Braves’ turnovers.
“We had too many empty possessions (in the fourth quarter),” Shikellamy coach Tim Foor said, “and we didn’t do a good job of rotating on the defensive end. We left their shooters wide open too many times. Milton really played well.”
Diggan joined Jacobs in double figure with 11 points and led Milton with eight rebounds, while Baker finished with nine points and five assists.
Mantz led the Braves with 22 points and eight rebounds. C.J. Tyler added 14 points, six boards and five assists.