By Greg Klein
---- — ONEONTA
A win is a win.
Still, Morris boys basketball coach Dave Sander was anything but pleased after Saturday’s 34-27 Tri-Valley League championship victory over Milford.
“I’m absolutely frustrated with my seniors,” Sander said after winning his second straight T-V title and third in the last four seasons. “We had a meltdown in the fourth quarter, and as an experienced team, we shouldn’t be doing that.”
Senior guard Mike DeLuca followed Sander’s lead, finding little joy in his game-high 15-point performance.
“It was a sloppy game,” DeLuca said. “I was the leading scorer, but I had an awful game. Don’t give me any credit; give it to my teammates. Levi Decker didn’t score a lot of points, but he had a good game. Kerry Smith played a great game. Give them the credit.”
Although the T-V boys had the prime-time spot as the 8 p.m. finale for Saturday’s championship quadruple-header at Oneonta State, their title game hardly resembled a main event.
Milford had a particularly difficult time scoring at Dewar Arena, amassing a grand total of 12 points in three-plus quarters.
“We played awful for three quarters,” Milford coach Frank Spurchise said. “Give all the credit to their defense. They took us out of our game. They made it difficult to run our offense. It was not the best shooting night for us, but give them credit for that, too.”
Skylar Maricle made two free throws with 6 minutes, 45 seconds left to give Morris a 28-12 lead. About three minutes later, the Mustangs (16-1) held a 31-14 advantage when Decker scored their only fourth-quarter field goal for their biggest lead.
The Wildcats (13-4) didn’t go away, though.
Peyton Griffiths and Jacob Tabor made back-to-back layups before Will Ward hit a three-point field goal to cut Milford’s deficit to 10 points with a little more than two minutes to go.
Griffiths then stole the ball from DeLuca at midcourt and followed with another layup, drawing a foul on DeLuca after driving into the paint and spinning off a defender. Griffiths missed the foul shot, but Milford pulled to 31-23 with 1:26 left.
Ward made it a six-point game 30 seconds later, making two free throws after drawing a foul on Maricle during a putback attempt.
“The two things you can’t do when a team is coming back are turnovers and letting them get rebounds,” Sander said. “We gave them both and we let them back in the game.”
Ward fouled DeLuca on the ensuing inbounds play, and DeLuca made the first free throw for a 32-25 cushion. DeLuca missed the second. Griffiths rebounded and went end-to-end to make it 32-27 with 40 seconds left.
Morris then threw the ball away after breaking Milford’s press, giving the Wildcats a chance to make it a one-possession game. Griffiths dribbled to the top of the key and missed a jump shot from behind the three-point arc, though, and DeLuca ended up with the ball. Eli Rutledge fouled DeLuca, who made two free throws to cap the scoring with 24 seconds to go.
“I blame myself for not pressing earlier,” Spurchise said. “But you never know, sometimes you bring the press out too early and they blow it open. And if Peyton had made that shot, it would have been a two-point game.”
DeLuca’s 15 points included a rushed, banked-in three-point basket to end the third quarter. The Mustangs did not appear to know that the quarter was ending, but DeLuca realized in time and threw up the shot from just left of the top of the key.
“The buzzer beater three-pointer at the end of the third quarter was bigger than I thought at the time,” Spurchise said.
Griffiths led Milford with eight points, six in the fourth quarter.
“Kerry Smith did a great job playing defense on him,” Sander said. “He did the same thing in the game up there, holding him to 11 points. He takes that role on himself and he does it well. At the end of the game he is (exhausted), because he uses all his energy on the court.”
Milford made 11 field goals — two more than Morris — but went 4-for-12 at the foul line. The Mustangs hit 14 of 20 free throws, including a 6-for-8 effort in the fourth quarter.
“I know I wanted it to get to free throws,” said DeLuca. “They started fouling later than I thought they would. Once we got it to free throws, I thought we would pull it out.”
Both coaches vowed to produce better performances in the Section Four Class D Tournament.
“I guarantee I will use the fourth quarter as our rallying point to be ready on Wednesday,” said Spurchise, whose fourth-seeded Wildcats hosted No. 13 Cherry Valley-Springfield (10-7) in a first-round sectional game on Wednesday. “I’ll probably yell at them a little about the first three quarters, too.”
A win over CV-S would give Milford a home game against No. 5 seed Hunter-Tannersville or No.12 Laurens on Saturday in the quarterfinals.
The Wildcats and Mustangs could meet again in the semifinals Feb. 27 at Oneonta State. Morris drew a bye as the No. 1 seed and will host a quarterfinal against ninth-seeded Deposit (9-9) or No. 8 Southern Cayuga (8-10) on Saturday.
Morris 34, Milford 27
Saturday at Oneonta State
MILFORD (13-4): Blake Elliot 0 0-0 0, Peyton Griffiths 4 0-1 8, Will Ward 2 2-2 7, Eli Coley 0 0-0 0, Paul VanWarner 0 1-2 1, Brian Atwell 0 0-0 0, Max Laing 2 0-0 4, Jacob Tabor 2 1-5 5, Eli Rutledge 1 0-2 2. TOTALS: 11 4-12 27.
MORRIS (16-1): Kerry Smith 1 2-2 4, Levi Decker 2 2-2 6, Mike DeLuca 5 3-4 15, Aidan Staib 0 2-2 2, Andrew Dougherty 0 3-8 3, Cody Myers 0 0-0 0, Skylar Maricle 1 2-2 4. TOTALS: 9 14-20 34.
Milford 5 5 2 15 – 27
Morris 8 10 8 8 – 34
Three-point field goals: Mil 1 (Ward); Mor 2 (DeLuca 2).