Shades of last season’s playoff loss to a different upstate vocational school were dancing through the heads of the home crowd Wednesday night.
But on the court, the Milford boys’ basketball team focused on the task at hand — erasing Howard’s eight-point halftime lead.
By the end of the third quarter the Buccaneers had done just that and went on to defeat the No. 24 Wildcats, 65-54, in a first-round DIAA state tournament game.
The win, Milford’s first in the state tournament since 2011, advanced the ninth-seeded Buccaneers (15-7) to a Friday second-round game at No. 8 St. Elizabeth (14-6).
“Coach (Bob Spath) told us we played a horrible half and were only down by eight,” said junior Brion Murray. “He asked us, ‘Are you going to let a No. 24 seed end all that you have worked for?’”
Milford’s answer was an emphatic “no.”
Still trailing by eight two minutes into the third quarter — earlier Howard had pushed its lead to 10 — Milford saw junior Henry Nesmith (team-high 19 points) find his stroke from beyond the arc.
Nesmith sandwiched a pair of three-pointers around a Howard field goal, and got fouled on another attempt from the outside and made two free throws. That opened up the lanes for Murray, who despite not making a field goal, continued to draw fouls and scored all of his 11 points from the foul line in the second half.
“We just weren’t getting any inside and out action and we weren’t getting any perimeter shooting,” said Spath, whose team took a 42-40 lead into the fourth quarter and never trailed again.
“One of our best shooters is Henry Nesmith, and we kind of got a little more movement side-to-side inside and out. And we were able to get (Henry) good open shots on the perimeter. We were able to open up the zone a little bit by knocking those down.”
Four unanswered points from Nesmith pushed Milford’s lead to six at the start of the fourth, but the Wildcats answered with a 7-1 run to get back to within one of the Buccaneers at 48-47. Howard had a chance to reclaim the lead after a Milford turnover midway through the fourth, but the Wildcats gave the ball back and Marcus Correa put the Bucs up by three with a baseline dunk.
From there, Howard was never able to get any closer and eventually Milford sealed the win from the line.
While it closed strong, Milford struggled from the field in the first half, leading to its eight-point deficit at halftime. The Buccaneers, whose largest deficit in the game was 11 points, were able to keep the score somewhat close thanks in large part to the early play of senior Son Martinez (15 points) and a late second-quarter mini-run.
Woodbridge 62, St. Andrews 46: The 17th-seeded Raiders toppled No. 16 St. Andrews in a first-round tourney game.
Woodbridge (17-4) plays at top-seeded Sanford (17-2) on Friday at 7 p.m. in the second round.
Newark 57, Cape Henlopen 42: Michael Drumgo-Sharpe tallied 30 points, including five three-pointers, as the No. 20 Yellowjackets knocked off the 13th-seeded Vikings.
Newark (13-8) next plays at No. 4 Mount Pleasant (17-3) on Friday at 7 p.m.
Leading by seven, the Yellowjackets outscored Cape, 18-10, in the fourth quarter to put away the victory.
Ian Robertson had 12 points while Demetrius Price added 10 for the Vikings.
Middletown 48 Laurel 45: The 15th-seeded Cavaliers edged the No. 18 Bulldogs in a first-round matchup.
Middletown (11-10) will play at second-seeded William Penn (17-2) on Friday at 7 p.m. in the second round. Laurel finishes at 12-9.
Navy 20, Delaware State 4: The Midshipmen scored 11 runs in the second inning and added six more in the third en route to the win.
Navy scored all of its runs and pounded out 16 hits off the first three Hornet pitchers. Three DSU relievers kept the Midshipmen off the scoreboard and allowed just two hits in six innings of work.
The Hornets had seven hits in the contest, one for extra bases. Chris Panzarella had two of the Hornets’ seven hits.
WOMEN, James Madison 65, Delaware 43: The Dukes jumped out to a 40-23 halftime lead before posting the CAA victory.
Courtni Green with 10 points was the only player to score in double figures for the Blue Hens (10-8 CAA, 15-14 overall).
MEN, Wesley 13, Johnson & Wales 8: Sam Seibert finished with five goals while Jack Redefer and Will Fingles each netted three in the Wolverines’ victory.
Also for the Wolverines (2-2), Joe Fingles scored once and dished off a game-high three assists.
Goalie Cody Ireland earned the win with seven saves while Eric Bohns led the defense with three caused turnovers and three ground balls. Nate Gemmato scooped a game-high 12 ground balls, winning 11-of-20 faceoffs.
WOMEN, Misericordia 13, Wesley 4: Four different Wolverines scored and goalie Savannah Clough made 16 saves in the Wolverines’ loss.
Nyi Wright finished with a team-high in caused turnovers with four and ground balls with six for Wesley (1-2).
Foley Wassmuth, Bailey Olds, Brianna Bacon and Maddison Cypher all scored goals.