Milton’s three-year run of reaching the state finals ended last season in an upset loss to Norcross that ushered out three all-state seniors.
Nearly a year later, it looks like it might’ve been just the closing of one era, the start of another one just as good.
Evan Nolte, the lone starter remaining from the 2010 Class AAAAA champions and 2009 and 2011 runners-up, scored 21 points Tuesday in No. 1-ranked Milton’s 84-48 victory over Northview that put the Eagles (16-4, 8-0) within a win of clinching the regular-season championship of Region 6-AAAAA.
Northview (12-6, 5-3) had been Milton’s top region challenger and was within 33-28 at halftime, but Milton scored the first 11 points of the second half, nine by Nolte, and Northview never made another run.
Milton has won 12 straight games since a 4-4 start.
‘’We were at a crossroads,’’ Boyd said of the early-season tribulations that included three forfeits over star guard Charles Mann’s eligibility. “When you have a strong program, the threads tighten instead of getting looser. We got tougher. We played harder.’’
Gone from last year’s powerhouse are four Division I signees, three that started three seasons – Shannon Scott (Ohio State), Dai-Jon Parker (Vanderbilt) and Julian Royal (Georgia Tech).
But there are at least a half-dozen sure Division I players on the current squad, including Nolte (Virginia signee) and transfers Mann (Georgia) and Tevin Glass (offered by Georgia Southern and Jacksonville).
‘’The main difference this year is that we play harder and we’re hungrier,’’ said Nolte, a four-year starter. “We don’t just think that we’re going to show up and win.’’
Milton, ranked in the top 10 in one national poll, would be 19-1 except for forfeits when Mann played before living properly in the Milton district. No opponent has come within 11 points of Milton with Mann on the floor. The first player that Boyd praised Tuesday, Mann scored 18 points against Northview.
Former sixth-man Shaquille Johnson (Auburn signee) plays a larger role this season, though he sat out Tuesday’s game as penalty for a flagrant foul in a game last weekend.
Impressive on Tuesday were blue-chip sophomores Mo Lewis IV and Jaylen Patterson. Lewis, starting in place of Johnson, made his first three shots, all mid-range jumpers, in the first quarter and finished with eight points. Patterson scored 16.
Northview got 11 points apiece from 6-10 center Kyle Meyer and point guard Evan Jacks, the region football player of the year.
‘’We struggled in the first half, maybe not playing as intense as we needed to,’’ Boyd said. “We got a great game out of Mann. We responded pretty well in the second half.’’