Down but not out, Montreat men to face Milligan

Tyler Lee
Special to The Black Mountain News

Montreat College’s men’s basketball team has a chance to redeem its conference record when it faces the Milligan College Buffalos at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 27 in McAlister Gymnasium.

The Cavaliers are currently 1-9 in the Appalachian Athletic Conference. With seven conference games remaining in the season, the team hopes to improve its record.

Milligan is a longtime conference rival. Boasting a 7-4 conference record, the Millgan Buffalos’ will be playing for a chance to be a part of the conference championship.

“Rivalries are always fun for both schools,” Montreat head coach Garrett Jones said. “There’s always a lot of emotion involved. ... I really look at this game as another great opponent on the schedule and an opportunity for us to get better as a team and continue to shape our identity as a program.”

Playing a game against one with such a strong record will no doubt be difficult. Montreat has already faced countless difficulties this season - many of its players are young, it lost athletes at the start of the semester and it faced several conference opponents on the road.

Nonetheless, Montreat remains optimistic.

“… Our strength is really in our team as a whole,” Jones said. “We’ve added some new faces since Christmas, and it gives us a few extra bodies for depth. We do have some exciting individual talent, but if we can continue to grow and evolve as a unit, I believe this group can compete with anyone in our league.”

This game is preceded by a close game against St. Andrews College on Jan. 21. The Cavaliers went into halftime up by 5 but fell behind in the second half.

“This past game against St. Andrews was something we can definitely build off of,” senior forward Ryan Bethoney said. “We have added some key players for this semester, and if we continue to build team chemistry I truly believe we can make a run late in the season.”

It will be important for the Cavaliers to limit the team’s turnovers in the upcoming games, Bethoney said. The Cavaliers also learned from the team’s Dec. 5 game against Milligan that a strong defense is crucial against the Buffalos.

In that previous game, Montreat was behind at halftime by only 4. It recovered, then Alonzo Mobley tied the game with only 29 seconds remaining. Milligan clenched the victory, 66-68.

“It was an exciting game at Milligan,” Coach Jones said. “It was one of those games neither team deserved to lose, and they just made one more play at the end than we did. Hopefully we are a little sharper in everything we are trying to do.”

Though the Cavaliers’ strength will be their offense in the Milligan game, their defense needs to remain strong in the second half if they hope to defeat the Buffalos.

“Going into the Milligan game, we need to play good help-side defense and communicate as well as executing on offense,” sophomore guard Sean Doman said. “Coach tells us that our record doesn’t define who we are and that we still have a chance to make a run. He always encourages us and tell us to remain positive.”

Forming the necessary strong defense has been difficult for the team this season, as the team has faced several complications.

“This team has seen about every adverse situation that can happen in a season,” Jones said. “We’ve lost players, had a difficult schedule and are a young team. However, we try to look at adversity as pure joy. I’m proud of this group for how they’ve kept fighting and pushing forward even in difficult times.”

Another difficulty has been the many away games in a row. The team played before small crowds at home during conference games over the Christmas break. Also, 14 of the team’s first 17 games were away. With several consecutive losses, the team could become pessimistic about its situation.

“It’s not easy on morale when you are losing multiple games. It takes a toll mentally on you,” Jones said. “At the end of the day this program and group will be better for the challenges and obstacles we’ve faced this season.

“As a staff, our vision and goals for this program haven’t changed because of our record … Whether we are 24-3 or 3-24 at the end of a year, the foundation of our program is the same.”