With the Appalachian Athletic Conference basketball season winding down, Milligan (5-10 AAC, 9-16 overall) desperately needed a victory against top-ranked Tennessee-Wesleyan on Saturday afternoon at Steve Lacy Fieldhouse.
The Bulldogs (12-2, 18-9) are in a dogfight with Reinhardt for the top spot in the conference and they opened the contest by shooting 68.8 percent from the floor in the first half and toppled the Buffs 100-87.
“Right now we have a two-game lead with two games to go,” said Bulldogs head coach Mike Poe. “We get Reinhardt next week and we can win the conference with a win. I take my hat off to Milligan, they could have quit, but they have a good program here and the team plays hard under Coach Robinson.”
Wesleyan shot 22-of-32 from the floor to open up a 61-35 halftime bulge, with junior wing Matt Harper leading the way with 15 points. Harper finished with 24, tying teammate Desmond Crisp for the game-high scoring lead.
At halftime a contest was held sponsored by Chick-Fil-A, and Lady Highlander Kendal Mull sank a free throw, layup, three-pointer and a half-court shot that she banked off the glass to win a year’s free pass at the restaurant.
The Buffs put up a fight in the second half despite the deep hole they had dug for themselves with poor defensive rotation, giving Tennessee-Wesleyan a lot of free looks at the hoop.
“They are really, really good and are playing really well right now,” said Buffs head coach Bill Robinson. “They have a lot of weapons at a lot of positions, and we gave them a lot of easy shots. Every time we went for the turnover it led to easy transition baskets for them.”
Milligan outscored the Bulldogs 52-39 in the second half, but couldn’t overcome an opening half where the Buffs surrendered runs of 10, 10, eight, eight and seven to the Bulldogs.
Sophomore guard Kyle Grisby led the Buffs with 23 points followed by post Marshall Hardy with 13. Both Torian Sitton and Tyler DeVault finished with 12.
“The only thing we talked about at halftime was to come out and compete hard in the second half,” Robinson said. “Forget about the score, just compete and they did that. I can’t complain about the effort. We have some things to fix in a short period of time, but overall I’m not upset about the effort.”
The Buffs finish the 2011-12 slate on Feb. 18 at Lacy Fieldhouse against AAC newcomer Point University before the tournament begins at the top seed’s home court.