NEWARK — Falling behind early against the state’s top team isn’t a recipe for success.
Chalk that up as another lesson learned by the Milford boys’ basketball team, which Sunday night became the first Buccaneers squad to play a postseason game at the Bob Carpenter Center.
Paced by senior star Mikey Dixon (game-high 25 points), No. 1 Sanford jumped out to a big first half lead and then held off a late Milford run to win 64-49.
The win advanced Sanford to the semifinals against No. 4 Mt. Pleasant. Milford’s season ended at 16-8.
“They shot a really high percentage in the first half,” Milford coach Bob Spath said of Sanford, which took a 40-23 lead into halftime. “They lit us up. It was the wrong timing. They hit everything and our guys’ heads went down a little bit.”
Already on its heels after Sanford opened the game from the line thanks to a pregame technical foul assessed against No. 9 Milford, the Warriors opened up a 6-0 lead before the Bucs got on the board.
Milford junior Henry Nesmith drained two of his six total three-pointers during the quarter to help the Bucs pull to within two of the Warriors’ advantage. But, as it would repeat in the second quarter, Sanford responded with a run and ended the first with a 19-11 advantage.
Things only got worse for Milford late in the second quarter.
Trailing by 11 right from the start of the period after eighth-grader Jyare Davis drained a three-pointer, Milford got a few big three-point buckets from Nesmith and senior Dame Coleman to make the score 25-20. Again, however, Sanford went on a run to end the period – this one 15-3.
“A couple guys hit threes early, but others weren’t engaged and that’s costly in this kind of environment,” Spath said.
After scoring even with Sanford in the third, Milford staged a late comeback in the fourth and was able to get to within 12 of the lead at 61-49 with two minutes to play but that was as close as it would come.
“Win or lose, it was a great experience,” said Nesmith, who finished with a team-high 20 points.
Spath agreed, adding that his senior class should be proud of its accomplishments this year.
“When we got to this game tonight, there was only five teams left,” Spath said. “It was a great season. An “A-plus” season. Getting to the quarterfinals… The seniors helped establish a program.
“And I feel good about what we have coming back,” he added. “The guys that are sophomores and juniors can strive to come back here and play a better game the next time. There’s a lot to build on for the future.”