By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
If Milton goes on to win the Class AAAAA state title, a little bit of the credit should go to Tift County. The Blue Devils caught Milton napping back on Dec. 10 and stole a 57-52 win at the Eagle’s Nest.
“We took them lightly and didn’t show up to play,” said senior guard Shaquille Johnson. “But we said to ourselves then that that was the last game we were going to lose this season.”
That promise lives on. Top-ranked Milton (26-4) came out clicking on all cylinders Wednesday night and overwhelmed upstart Shiloh (25-4), ranked No. 5, 72-52, in front of a jam-packed and full-throated home crowd. The win sends Milton to its fourth consecutive Elite Eight, Saturday at West Georgia, against North Gwinnett, which won a thriller over Wheeler, 70-68 in overtime.
Milton slept-walked through much of its first-round win over Walton (65-62), last Saturday. But their intensity was on display early and often against the Generals, particularly on the defensive end of the floor. Shiloh could muster just 10 points in the first quarter, thanks to effort and a little defensive wrinkle employed by Milton head coach David Boyd, who used two players to guard Shiloh’s 6-foot-9 center Robert Carter, a Georgia Tech signee.
While Carter was on the perimeter, he was guarded by the shorter (6-foot-5) but quicker Johnson, who has committed to Auburn. When he went inside, 6-foot-8 Virginia-bound forward Evan Nolte drew the assignment. The tactic held Carter to just 10 points, four in the first quarter.
Then, with Milton leading 16-10 heading into the second period, the Eagle offense got cooking. Johnson, and fellow guards Charles Mann (committed to Georgia) and Jalyn Patterson, began to attack the middle of the General defense, going right at Carter and 7-foot sophomore center Trayvon Reed.
“We saw on film that a lot of teams were hesitant to go inside on their big men,” Boyd said. “We decided that the best way to attack them was to go right at them. Once we did that, it opened up things for us on the perimeter.”
The result was a 21-point second quarter that put Milton ahead 37-25 at the half. Shiloh would only get as close as eight points the rest of the way, as the Eagles put the game on ice with a 22-point final period. Milton forward Tevin Glass led all scorers with 25 points, while Johnson and Mann added 14 apiece.
Boyd felt the moment, along with his team’s intensity, was too much to handle for Shiloh, an emerging basketball program which missed the state playoffs three out of the last four seasons.
“We’ve been here before and this is kind of new for Shiloh,” Boyd said. “Plus we were playing at home, which is a huge advantage for us because we get to keep our regular routines.”
Shiloh head coach Kim Rivers, in his fourth season, agreed.
“I think the moment got to us a little bit. We didn’t get the 50-50 balls because they were so much more aggressive than we were,” Rivers said. “I told them before the game that winning a state championship is the hardest thing you’ll ever do and you have to leave everything out on the floor to do it. Most of our guys were just not ready for this stage.”
But according to Johnson, Milton is more than ready to reclaim the state championship it won in 2010, but lost in last year’s final to Norcross.
“We said we weren’t going to lose again,” Johnson said. “And we’re not.”