By Greg Klein
The Daily Star
---- — 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 after 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. If 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 is 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 as 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,” said Spurchise, who got six of Griffiths’ team-best eight points in the fourth quarter. “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.”
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, who banked in a deep three-pointer as time expired in the third quarter. “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 host No. 13 Cherry Valley-Springfield (10-7) in a first-round sectional game at 7 p.m. Wednesday. “I’ll probably yell at them a little about the first three quarters, too.”
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) this Saturday.
“I am definitely worried about that game,” Sander said. “Whoever wins, we’re going to get a tough game. If we play like we played today, we’re going to be in trouble.”