Milford rallies for first boys’ basketball tourney win in five years

MILFORD – Shades of last season’s playoff loss to a different upstate vocational school were dancing through the heads of the home crowd Wednesday night.

But on the court, the Milford boys’ basketball team focused on the task at hand – erasing Howard’s eight-point halftime lead. By the end of the third quarter the Buccaneers had done just that and went on to defeat the No. 24 Wildcats 65-54.

The win, Milford’s first in the state tournament since 2011, advanced the ninth-seeded Buccaneers (15-7) to a scheduled Friday second round game at No. 8 St. Elizabeth.

Brion Murray helped put Howard away with his work from the free-throw line. (The Chronicle/Jeff Mitchell)

Brion Murray helped put Howard away with his work from the free-throw line. (The Chronicle/Jeff Mitchell)

“Coach (Bob Spath) told us we played a horrible half and were only down by eight,” said junior Brion Murray. “He asked us, ‘are you going to let a No. 24 seed end all that you have worked for?’”

Milford’s answer was an emphatic “no.”

Still trailing by eight two minutes into the third quarter – earlier Howard had pushed its lead to 10 – Milford saw junior Henry Nesmith (team-high 19 points) find his stroke from beyond the arc.

Nesmith sandwiched a pair of three-pointers around a Howard field goal, and got fouled on another attempt from the outside and made two free throws. That opened up the lanes for Murray, who despite not making a field goal continued to draw fouls and scored all of his 11 total points from the line in the second half.

“We just weren’t getting any inside and out action and we weren’t getting any perimeter shooting,” said Spath, whose team took a 42-40 lead into the fourth quarter and never trailed again. “One of our best shooters is Henry Nesmith, and we kind of got a little more movement side-to-side inside and out. And we were able to get (Henry) good open shots on the perimeter. We were able to open up the zone a little bit by knocking those down.”

Senior Devin Kravitz goes to the rim in the first half of Wednesday's playoff game. (The Chronicle/Jeff Mitchell)

Senior Devin Kravitz goes to the rim in the first half of Wednesday’s playoff game. (The Chronicle/Jeff Mitchell)

Four unanswered points from Nesmith pushed Milford’s lead to six at the start of the fourth, but the Wildcats answered with a 7-2 run to get back to within one of the Buccaneers at 48-47. Howard had a chance to reclaim the lead after a Milford turnover midway through the fourth, but the Wildcats gave the ball back and Marcus Correa put the Bucs up by three with a baseline dunk.

From there Howard was never able to get any closer and eventually Milford sealed the win from the line.

While it closed strong, Milford struggled from the field in the first half leading to its eight-point deficit at halftime. The Buccaneers, whose largest deficit in the game was 11 points, were able to keep the score somewhat close thanks in large part to the early play of senior Son Martinez (15 points) and a late second quarter mini-run.

From the Milford Chronicle Sports Desk

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