By Jamie Combs
Each time it had a firm grasp on the lead, Milligan developed an arthritic grip.
Letting a 14-point halftime advantage and later an 11-point edge slip through their fingers, the Buffaloes were dealt a 69- 68 non-conference loss by Alice Lloyd at Steve Lacy Fieldhouse Friday afternoon.
“It’s very frustrating,” said Buffs coach Bill Robinson. “You want momentum going into a (semester) break. This puts a sour note on everything right now. We need one more rebound and it’s a victory. It was two possessions — all we needed was to get one rebound and couldn’t get either one.”
Going up 68-67 when point guard Kyle Grisby drained a pair of foul shots with 21.2 seconds to play, the Buffs (4-6) then failed to retrieve a perimeter misfire off the shooting hand of Clint Stepp. The basketball was instead corralled by the Eagles’ Brandon Hayes, who quickly drew a two-shot foul 2.5 ticks from the end.
Hayes would be off the mark on both charity tosses, but the ball deflected into his hands after the second miss — and he laid the ball off the glass for the winning points with :0.6 showing on the clock.
“We were up by 10 rebounds at the half, then we got outrebounded in the second half,” Grisby said. “You saw on that last shot — he got the rebound off the free-throw line and hit the game-winner.”
Following a Milligan timeout, Tyler DeVault expertly fired a long, over-the-top pass to Marshall Hardy. However, Hardy’s long-range try — a few steps from his right-side corner — would not have counted had it connected (it came after the buzzer).
“Offensively, we struggled,” said coach J.R. Hammond, whose Eagles (8-4) nipped the Buffs by nearly the same score (69-67) at Alice Lloyd last month. “We didn’t shoot the ball well in the first half; I think we shot like 20 percent from the field. Then, in the second half, we didn’t really look to shoot it from the outside. We just wanted to go at them, we wanted to attack. We’ve been known to be an attacking team, anyway — and it just paid off.
“We hit some clutch shots, made some good passes, hit a couple of good threes and had an opportunity to win. That’s all I told them at halftime. I said, ‘As long as you give me an opportunity to win the game at the end, we’ll see what happens.’”
Failing to reach double digits on the scoreboard till the 8:14 mark of the opening half, the Eagles converted just 7 of 32 floor attempts (22 percent) before intermission. Milligan’s defensive execution had something to do with that, as Alice Lloyd was having a tough time getting good looks at the basket.
Moreover, the Buffs yanked down 30 boards to the Eagles’ 20 as they manufactured a 38-24 halftime lead. The Buffs went to the break on an 8-2 spurt that saw Grisby bury two 3-pointers and drop in a deuce off a drive into the lane.
“Milligan — hats off, they’re a great club,” Hammond said. “They’ve been one of the top (teams) in the league here in the (Appalachian Athletic Conference) forever. To come here and get a win on the road is really good for us.”
The complexion of the game rapidly changed after halftime. Alice Lloyd initiated the second half with a 12-2 run — and eventually took its first lead (48-47) on a Brent Hall bucket with 10:21 go to.
From there, Milligan reasserted itself with a 15-3 surge featuring five points from Morgan McLeod — and Mickey Woods converting four free throws. Ahead 62-51 with 5:10 remaining, the Buffs appeared to be in fine shape — but the Eagles wouldn’t fly away.
Isaac Wilson spearheaded another A-Lloyd comeback by going 6-of-6 at the charity stripe. Casey Dalton busting a 3-pointer and then sinking two foul shots bumped the Eagles ahead 67-66 with 45.7 seconds left.
“I think they woke up,” said Robinson, speaking of the Eagles’ second-half play. “I think they shot 20 percent in the first half. They’re not going to do that — they’re a good team. They’re not going to do that every half — we knew that coming in. We were just hoping that we could weather their runs, and we did for a little while, then they got the last run. A little bit more time and I think we would win it.”
Shooting a robust 52 percent (14-of-27) from the field in the second half, Alice Lloyd was successful on 36 percent (21-59) of its game-total attempts. Making 17 of 40 pre-intermission shots, the Buffs went 8-of-25 the rest of the way to close at 38 percent (25-65).
Grabbing nine fewer boards than the Eagles after halftime, Milligan finished with a 45-44 edge in that department. The Buffs have now suffered four straight setbacks, although one was an exhibition.
“We needed to win this one because we’ve got ETSU on Monday,” Grisby said. “We really needed this win, but we’ve just got to keep working hard. We’ve got to keep working hard so we’ll be all right in the long run.”
Dalton poured in 18 points — 15 on five treys — and registered a trio of steals to pace the Eagles. Other key Alice Lloyd performers were Hayes (15 pts., 6 reb., 4 assists), Hall (10 pts., 9 reb.), Wilson (10 pts.) and Terry Muse (6 pts., 9 reb., 2 blocked shots).
Grisby and Woods totaled 17 and 14 points, respectively, on Milligan’s side of the ledger. Hardy racked up 10 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two blocks, with DeVault collecting nine points and a half-dozen boards in a reserve role.
“Not a whole lot of positives to say today,” Robinson said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to figure some stuff out and get better next semester.”
Milligan will be at ETSU Monday for a 7 p.m. tip-off. For the Buffs, the game will count as an exhibition.