By Zach Shugan
MILTON, Ga. — The No. 1-ranked Milton boys basketball team stayed hot and, more importantly, stayed on track in its quest to win a state title, as the Eagles took down Archer in the 7A Sweet Sixteen for their 23rd consecutive win this season.
Following a slow start to Saturday night’s game, Milton (25-2) cruised past Archer (15-13) in the second half to win 63-42 and advance to the Elite Eight for the second year in a row.
“We’re fortunate to be here,” Milton head coach Allen Whitehart said. “You can never take anything for granted. Each year poses different challenges, and we’re just blessed to be here, honestly.”
Archer showed early flashes of an upset, jumping out to a 9-4 lead in the opening minutes. Milton settled in though and led 15-11 at the end of the first quarter.
The Eagles led by two points, 20-18, at halftime, after a defensive slugfest with very few shots made by either team in the first two quarters.
Offense was aplenty in the third quarter, at least for Milton. The Eagles began the period on a 12-0 run and ended up outscoring the Tigers by 15 points by the time the period came to a close, leading 41-24 entering the final quarter.
The Eagles closed out the win in the fourth quarter, never letting the Tigers within striking distance.
“We stayed with what we were doing and stayed the course with gameplay,” Whitehart said. “Really we just settled in and got things going.”
Milton junior Bruce Thornton posted 16 points, 4 rebounds and 7 assists in the win. Sophomore Kanaan Carlyle also scored 16 in addition to his 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks. Sophomore L.T. Overton added 12 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks, using his size to his advantage in the post and on the boards.
“I though Bruce controlled everything like a maestro tonight,” Whitehart said. “He just directed everything. And L.T. really caused problems inside carving out space and finishing everything he caught down there. I think those were two big things that changed the game.”
Since beginning the season 2-2 with losses to two of the top-ranked teams in the state (McEachern and Sandy Creek), the Eagles have rattled off 23 straight wins. They’re the consensus top-ranked team in Class 7A, and MaxPreps has them ranked No. 10 in the nation. And they’re one step closer to reaching their ultimate goal of winning a state championship.
Milton will host Newnan (19-8) next week in the Class 7A Elite Eight. The Cougars entered the state playoffs as a four-seed and pulled off upsets on the road over Walton and Parkview in the first two rounds.
For Whitehart and the Eagles, there’s no time to celebrate the win in the Sweet 16 when an Elite Eight matchup with Newnan looms in the not-so-distant future.
“We got to regroup and break down some film and get ready for the next step. That’ll probably happen tonight.”