By Jon Gerardi
The Daily Item
Early on it had the look of a game that might go down to the wire. Back and forth the lead changed hands throughout the first quarter before Milton took a four-point lead against an extremely skilled Lewisburg team.
Then about halfway through the second quarter, Lewisburg starter Sam Allen started to heat up. The freshman put together a run of 10 consecutive points for the Green Dragons and, in the process, helped Lewisburg build a 10-point lead at halftime with all the momentum.
From there, Milton never slowed Lewisburg’s offense and the Green Dragons continued piling up the points en route to a 70-49 rout of the Black Panthers in a HAC crossover game Monday night at Eichorn Middle School.
“That’s pretty much what happened,” Milton coach Steve DeLong said of Allen’s run that sparked Lewisburg. “We probably should’ve helped out more there, but they’re such good shooters ... what are you going to do? We’re at the half down 10, so we were well within range. We were still in the game and I was happy with how we played. I thought we’d get Travis (Krall) back and we could get back into it.”
Krall left the game in the second quarter with foul trouble for Milton (12-7, 9-2 HAC I) and his exit is what allowed Allen (17 points) to spark his scoring run for Lewisburg (18-1, 10-1 HAC-II).
“I saw we had mismatches inside and we had guys with open shots on the perimeter and it really opened things up inside for me,” Allen said.
Senior Travis Conrad also added 14 points, four boards and three assists, while Erich Kline had 16 points. Lewisburg outscored Milton 48-24 in the middle quarters to distance itself.
“It was mostly defensive intensity,” Allen said about the quick change of pace in the game. “We weren’t getting any turnovers, weren’t making shots, so we couldn’t break and we couldn’t get any transition baskets on them which is the majority of our offense.”
Lewisburg coach John Vaji yelled to his team on the court early in the second quarter to start grabbing some offensive rebounds. After he said that, the Green Dragons had three straight possessions with a second-chance basket.
Starter Jesse Flannery failed to score for Lewisburg, but his defensive presence was felt all game as he guarded Milton starter Ethan Baker. Baker — averaging 7.6 ppg. going into Monday’s contest — missed 10 shots on the night (including an 0-for-7 clip in the first half) and scored just four of his six points from the floor. Flannery also added five assists in the win.
“(Flanner) was matched up on Baker who was held down to six points. He only hit two field goals, so let’s not slight Jesse on what he did even though he didn’t score,” Vaji said. “But five assists in my book, that’s 10 points, and holding Baker down below his average. Very nice performance by the entire team.”
Milton’s Chad Diggan kept the Black Panthers in the game in the first half, scoring nine of his team’s 20 points and ending the game with team-highs of five boards and 18 points. Diggan also ended the night on a high note despite the loss by scoring his 1,000th point. He reached the milestone late in the fourth quarter from inside the paint, keeping the crowd anxious with every shot as the magic number drew near.
The Black Panthers’ offense hit a bit of a lull in the second quarter; Diggan scored the team’s first basket from the floor in the quarter at the 1:53 mark. The Panthers had just five of their seven points come from the floor in the second as Lewisburg increased its lead.
In the third quarter, the Green Dragons led by as many as 20 points and had a lead as large as 27 halfway through the fourth. The closest Milton cut the deficit was 12 points early in the third quarter.