Withrow’s two was greater than Milford’s one as the Tigers defeated the Eagles 69-64 in a Division I sectional semifinal game at Fairfield High School on Tuesday, Feb 29.
“They have two players that we don’t have,” Milford coach Joe Cambron said. “With (Devin) Williams and (Timothy) Coleman, they’re just a really good team.”
In one of the most entertaining games of the season, Milford and Withrow began exchanging blows right from the tip.
Withrow’s high-pressure defense caused the Milford guards to be wary of their lazy passes from the get-go and in turn, the Eagles’ two-three zone tried to force the Tigers to beat them from the outside.
“Williams is their best player, he’s a man,” Cambron said of the junior who scored 23 points and brought down 10 rebounds. “Our zone was designed to make them shoot from the perimeter and keep them from getting the ball inside to him.
“Early on that worked and we kept mixing back and forth (between two-three,three-two and man defenses) and that caused some problems.”
On the offensive end, the Eagles relied heavily on 6-foot-6 senior Rob Overbeck to carry the brunt of the load, taking on the 6-foot-7 Williams and 6-foot-10 Rozelle Nix.
“He’s first-team all conference. He stepped up as he always has,” Cambron said of his senior leader. “We wanted to get (Overbeck) the ball and get (Withrow) in foul trouble. He took it at them and was able to finish.
“In the first half, he carried us by scoring and in the second half they tried to speed the game up so we couldn’t get it inside as much.”
Overbeck scored 23 points and grabbed seven rebounds on the night.
In their first-round game with Western Brown, Milford had a definitive size advantage over the Broncos, which allowed Overbeck and his front-court mates the option to draw attention to themselves on the post in order to kick the ball out to shooters on the perimeter.
They had no such advantage in their sectional semifinal matchup, as Withrow’s bigs were able to man up with the tall Eagles’ front line.
Still, as the Tigers continued to let Coleman create and dish the ball off to his teammates, Milford was able to do more than just hang around, taking a 10-point lead a few minutes into the second quarter at 32-22.
However, just as defense had spurred the Eagles to their double-digit advantage, Withrow cranked up their defense to go on a 14-3 run to take a lead into the locker room, 36-35.
“We decided that we had to man up a bit and try to keep them in front (of us),” Cambron explained. “And we got some deflections and stops with that.”
Milford looked like the more disciplined team early in the second half, coming out of the break running their offensive sets patiently and building a five-point lead.
The turning point of the quarter came when Milford’s Josiah Greve was called for an intentional foul after chasing down Coleman.
The Eagles, whose lead was at 48-47 before the foul, found themselves down 51-48 following Coleman’s two free throws and ensuing possession.
Withrow finished the quarter well, opening up a 55-48 lead through three quarters and forcing the issue on the Eagles to either close the gap or watch the game get away from them.
Junior guard Brennan Farrell answered that call in the fourth quarter, taking over the game scoring 14 of his 19 points in the final period to give the Eagles a 61-60 lead with 1:28 remaining.
Withrow didn’t panic, much to the chagrin of some of their fans, as the Tigers ran an offensive set that took them to under a minute remaining.
Withrow senior Erron Nichols made two free throws after being fouled by Garrett Mayleben and then extended the Withrow lead on their next possession with a put-back layup to give the Tigers a 64-61 lead with 45 seconds remaining.
The Eagles were unable to close the gap and were forced to foul after missed shot attempts. The Tigers advanced the sectional final with the 69-64 win.
After starting the year 5-5, Milford didn’t get down on themselves or give up, which Cambron said is a tribute to his guys and his coaching staff.
“A lot of teams would have packed it in at 5-5 and we didn’t,” Cambron said. “But we kept tinkering and working and gained confidence. That’s a great sign of character and perseverance and what I hope people will think about Milford basketball.”
Milford will lose only two seniors next season in Overbeck and Robby Conley, but as Cambron pointed out, next year’s team will have to replace a double-double every night.
“Having so many guys coming back, I thought it was critical that we put ourselves in the position to win a tournament game and finish the season strong,” he said. “Those guys are hungry now. They got a taste of winning a tournament game and I think they saw what they have to do from the beginning of the season for us to be in a position to win our conference.”