Renewed focus on defense has Milton on right track

Dec. 31—TURBOTVILLE — Milton coach Ryan Brandt believed in the preseason that the diversity of his offensive talent would make the Black Panthers a contender in Division I of the Heartland Athletic Conference as well as the District 4 Class 4A race.

However, nearly a month into the season, Milton has changed its game plan and it paid Friday in a third consecutive win.

The Black Panthers held an opponent in the 40s for a third consecutive game, and Luke DeLong scored a game-high 18 points as Milton knocked off rival Warrior Run, 54-42.

"Our foundation is built up on our defense," said Brandt. "We held (Warrior Run) to four points in the first quarter. I think we held South Williamsport to three points in our last game. We're putting all of our pride, all of our eggs, in that defensive basket right now."

That renewed emphasis on defense allowed Milton to not worry as much about its offense, and, in turn, the Black Panthers have started to shoot better.

"It's kind of relieving us of pressure on the offensive end," Brandt said. "Early in the year, we weren't hitting shots, and now we aren't even worried about making shots because we don't have to hit as many because we are playing good defense."

Milton (4-3) knocked down 8 of its 19 3-point attempts in Friday's victory.

"I think it's really helped us on the offensive end," DeLong said. "My teammates and I are confident (in our offense), but there isn't as much pressure."

Milton's defense held Warrior Run to 2-of-11 shooting in the first quarter. That, along with some foul trouble and four turnovers, had the young Defenders struggling to get their offense kickstarted.

"Our defensive intensity and our hard work on the defensive side of the court is really paying off," DeLong said.

Warrior Run cut into the Milton lead, getting it to eight on Cooper Wilkins' 3-pointer with 4:53 left in the first half. The Black Panthers scored seven in a row out of a timeout, capped by Nigel Hunter's steal and basket with 3:25 left in the second quarter to give Milton a 22-7 lead.

The Defenders (4-4) trailed by double digits for most of the second half, but the Black Panthers couldn't shake them, either.

Jace Brandt pushed the Milton lead to 34-15 with 4:55 left in the third period, but a 10-2 Warrior Run spurt — capped by a Wilkins' 3-pointer — cut the lead to 11 just more than two minutes later. Xzavier Minium answered with a 3-pointer, and Jace Brandt's cross-court feed to DeLong for another 3 pushed the lead back to 17 for Milton.

Jace Brandt finished with 12 points and seven rebounds to go along with two assists. He, along with Ashton Krall inside, helped the under-sized Black Panthers compete with the lankier Defenders.

"Jace is kind of a unicorn with his build like a defensive end. If you play out on him hard, he's got the foot speed to drive it past or find the open man. If you play off him, he can shoot it. He's playing an undersized defense inside as well," Ryan Brandt said. "I think Ashton Krall is the best defensive big man in the area. He's a great athlete. He's strong, he's an offensive lineman (in football) and he can jump."

Milton struggled at the foul line down the stretch, making just 5 of 12 tries in the final 2:31 of the game. Landon Polcyn hit two late 3-pointers to get Warrior Run within 10 in the final minute, before Minium iced the game with two foul shots with less than 30 seconds to play.

Minium also finished in double figures for Milton with 11 points and added seven rebounds.

Wilkins had 10 points to lead the Defenders, while Mason Sheesley and Ryan Newton each finished with seven.

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MILTON 54, WARRIOR RUN 42

Milton (4-3) 54

Xzavier Minium 2 5-6 11; Ashton Krall 1 1-2 3; Luke DeLong 5 5-8 18; Nigel Hunter 3 1-2 7; Jace Brandt 4 1-4 12; Gehrig Baker 1 0-0 2; Will Frida 0 1-2 1. Totals 16 14-26 54.

3-point goals: DeLong 3, Brandt 3, Minium 2.

Did not score: Rylin Scott.

Warrior Run (4-4) 42

Carter Marr 2 0-0 4; Cooper Wilkins 3 2-3 10; Aden McKee 2 2-2 6; Mason Sheesley 3 0-0 7; Ryan Newton 2 3-4 7; Landon Polcyn 2 0-0 6; Griffen Harrington 1 0-0 2; Gavin Girton 0 0-2 0. Totals 15 7-11 42.

3-point goals: Wilkins 2, Polcyn 2, Sheesley.

Did not score: Chase Beachel, Aden Lewis.

Score by quarters

Milton;13;14;15;12 — 54

Warrior Run;4;11;14;15 — 42

JV score: Warrior Run 47-31. High scorers: Warrior Run, Harrington 19; Milton, Chase Knarr 9.