Big Reds thrash Jefferson in first victory of season

The wait is over.

Jarius Hamilton (23) drives for a basket in Milan's 59-34 win over Monroe Jefferson on Friday night. Hamilton and teammate Trevor Ballard led the Big Reds with 12 points.

Jarius Hamilton (23) drives for a basket in Milan’s 59-34 win over Monroe Jefferson on Friday night. Hamilton and teammate Trevor Ballard led the Big Reds with 12 points.

After a five-game losing streak began the season, the Milan Big Reds traveled to Monroe and defeated the Jefferson Bears 59-34, notching their first win of the 2016-17 campaign.

Milan never trailed in the contest, starting out with a 6-0 lead in the opening two minutes. The Big Reds led 16-5 after the first quarter, and expanded the lead to 32-13 at the half. Following the halftime break, the Milan lead was never less than 17.

Eleven of the 12 Big Red players scored in the game; Jarius Hamilton and Trevor Ballard led Milan with a game-high 12 points each. Jeremy Morgan had 9, while Kenari Moore and Maxwell Milliken each contributed 7 points of their own to the Big Red cause.

Trent Sandifer led Jefferson with 12.

“The same thing happened last year,” Milan head coach Chris Pope said after the win, referencing last season’s team whose one-point win against Saline kickstarted a 7-game win streak. “You learn from experience, and we needed to get the first (win). We hope to build off of it.”

The last two practices were a key part of the turnaround. “(They) were the best two days of practices we’ve had,” Pope said. “I’m holding people accountable, and making them run if they make mistakes. And if we take a step back on Monday (in practice), you’ll see it on Tuesday. But hopefully we can build off of tonight.”

Pope also went with the hot-hand starting lineup, tabbing Tristen Hines for the second straight game, as well as giving Kenari Moore a nod. “We switched up the lineup because they’ve been playing the best,” the third-year head coach said. “The five kids that work the hardest in practice will start from here on out. It’s a competition. If they keep (playing well), hopefully we’ll have some better results.”

The Big Red JV team also won their first game of the season, defeating the Jefferson squad 60-30.

“It’s all about the way you prepare,” Milan JV head coach Steven Price said. “I tell (the players) all the time that you have to earn victory every practice and every game you’re out there. To this point, I don’t know if we’ve done that. But today, everybody practiced harder, we prepared harder, and we performed better.

“We played 32 minutes from the start. It starts during warmups, and if you’re locked in (from then on), you’re going to see results.”

Friday’s win was the 948th victory in the history of the varsity program, putting them two wins away from 950; fellow Monroe County school Dundee made history with their 1,000th all-time win earlier this season.

Milan (1-5, 1-1 Huron League) travels to Carleton Airport on Tuesday to take on the Jets (3-4, 1-1 Huron League). The varsity contest is set to begin at 7 p.m.

Editor’s note: Dante Hurst was incorrectly stated as scoring 7 points. The article has been updated with the correct scorer, Maxwell Milliken.

Big Reds begin conference schedule with loss to SMCC

In the Huron League conference opener on Tuesday night, two challenges awaited the Milan Big Reds. The two foes were SMCC forward Christopher Haut and hybrid Nick Welch, who stood at 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-7 respectively. Despite Milan going on an 18-0 run at one point in the contest, the contributions of Haut and Welch propelled the Falcons to a 61-42 victory.

Kenari Moore (32) shoots a three-pointer, with SMCC's Nick Welch (23) defending, in Milan's 61-42 loss to the Falcons on Tuesday night. Moore finished with 8 points. (Photo by Paula Dotson)

Kenari Moore (32) shoots a three-pointer, with SMCC’s Nick Welch (23) defending, in Milan’s 61-42 loss to the Falcons on Tuesday night. Moore finished with 8 points. (Photo by Paula Dotson)

The second quarter provided momentum for the visiting Falcons. After opening the quarter with a 15-8 lead, SMCC outscored Milan 24-8 in the frame to take a 39-16 lead at the half. Welch had 14 of his game-high 21 points scored by halftime, while Haut notched nine of his 18.

After a bucket by Welch put SMCC up 46-20 midway through the 3rd, the Big Reds went on the aforementioned run. The Big Reds trailed by 12 at the end of the 3rd quarter, and cut the lead to 8 after two Trevor Ballard free throws. A 10-0 Falcon run following Ballard’s free throws stretched the lead back to 18, all but ending the chance at a Milan comeback.

Jeremy Morgan led the Big Reds in point-scoring in the contest, contributing 10 points. Teammates Ballard and Kenari Moore each had 8.

With the win, SMCC (5-0, 1-0 Huron League) won their 15th consecutive Huron League game; the Falcons went 14-0 in conference play a season ago.

Falcons head coach Randy Windham was proud of his team’s effort. “We took advantage of our height,” he said. “We got the ball inside quite a bit. That’s a key for us – to get the ball on the inside (and move) out. In the second half, we started shooting too many jump shots.

“But it’s the fifth game of the year. It was a good learning (experience) for our guys, especially since we had two guys coming back with experience. It was great to come on the road and defeat our rival.”

For the Big Reds, the issues remain the same. “We have to stop coming out slow,” head coach Chris Pope said. “We have to have more intensity at the beginning of the game, so we don’t get ourselves in this rut. On the board before the game, we go over things, and one of them is to play for 4 quarters.

“Today we competed for eight minutes. We have to compete like that for four quarters if we want to get a win.”

Tristen Hines (left) battles against SMCC's Wyatt O'Brien (13) in the Big Reds' 61-42 loss to the Falcons on Tuesday night. (Photo by Paula Dotson)

Tristen Hines (left) battles against SMCC’s Wyatt O’Brien (13) in the Big Reds’ 61-42 loss to the Falcons on Tuesday night. (Photo by Paula Dotson)

Pope attributed the play of freshman forward Tristen Hines – who made his first varsity start – to being a key in starting Milan’s third-quarter run. “(Tristen) played a heck of a game for us tonight,” Pope said. “He gave us exactly what we needed. He and Kenari brought some energy for us. We need our starters to have energy like that.”

As has been the case for the games so far in the season, a lack of focus was a factor in the loss. “We don’t do the little things well enough,” Pope said. “And if you don’t do the little things well enough, there’s no way you’re going to beat a team like SMCC.”

The JV Big Reds also lost to SMCC. Like their varsity counterparts, the JV – who lost 43-32 on Tuesday – is 0-5 overall with an 0-1 conference record.

Milan next faces Monroe Jefferson (2-3, 0-1) in a road contest on Friday. The game is set for a 7 p.m. start.

Milan falls to Tecumseh in overtime

It was the first game since Dec. 22 for both the Tecumseh Indians and Milan Big Reds. In a matchup where one team would get their first victory of the season, it would be the Indians walking away with the victory on Friday night; Tecumseh won 51-48.

Trevor Ballard (center) drives for a basket in Milan's 51-48 loss to Tecumseh on Friday night. Ballard led Milan with 15 points. (Photo by Paula Dotson)

Trevor Ballard (center) drives for a basket in Milan’s 51-48 loss to Tecumseh on Friday night. Ballard led Milan with 15 points. (Photo by Paula Dotson)

As has been the standard this season, Milan failed to capitalize on key runs. The Big Reds, who trailed 11-4 after the opening quarter, had a 10-0 run over the last 1:38 of the second frame to take a 21-17 lead into the half.

Milan found momentum again in the 4th after surrendering the lead in the previous stanza. A 6-0 run gave the Big Reds a 39-34 lead with 4:35 remaining, their largest of the night to that point. Tecumseh had an 8-0 run of their own, taking a 41-39 lead with 2:21 to go. A free throw 30 seconds later pushed the Indian lead to three.

A Jeremy Morgan free throw gave Milan a 43-42 lead with 47 seconds left in regulation; Dante Hurst tied the game on a prior possession with a three-pointer.

The lead would be short-lived, as Tecumseh’s Alex Foss tied the game with a free throw of his own; 15 seconds remained at the time of the tie. The Big Reds took a timeout with 10 seconds remaining, but were unable to get a shot off prior to time expiring.

Foss and teammate Kevin Sheets provided the key points for the Indians in overtime; Foss hit a jump shot and gave Tecumseh a 47-46 lead with 1:25 to go, and Sheets had three free throws that later extended the Indian lead to 50-46.

For Tecumseh head coach Mike Ruhl, the win was a sigh of relief and a breath of fresh air. “It has been a struggle,” he said. “But coming off a real low point before the break with the Manchester loss (a 59-39 loss for Tecumseh on Dec. 22), I saw a different team and different focus levels over break. (We became) a team that was ready to fight, ready to claw and come together, ready to learn. We needed to show it tonight.

“Every time we were down, we fought. Win or lose in a game like this, you’re proud of the kids because of dealing with adversity. I’m very proud of the kids coming together for their first win.”

Ruhl said that alumni seeing the team over Christmas break, as well as scrimmaging and other team exercises, played key roles in Tecumseh’s victory. “We spent time together outside of practice, and we took steps to becoming a team,” he said. “Our first 6 games, we weren’t a team. We’re starting to understand what it takes. We had leadership from our bench, and the guys were pulling for each other.

“It was a total team effort from top to bottom, and we needed it so bad. We’re (now) ready to play for each other. Effort and attitude were good. I’m just happy for the kids. They earned this one.”

On the other side, Milan coach Chris Pope was less than pleased. “We just don’t play fundamental basketball,” he said. “That’s the thing that’s killing us right now. We come out and we have struggles at the beginning of each game. We’re not focused enough.

“We have to come out better prepared, and that’s my fault. I take sole responsibility. When we find our groove, we can’t maintain it. We (alternate) between focusing and not focusing. We haven’t played a complete game all year, and (that’s why) our record is 0-4.”

Going forward, the third-year coach hopes to have more from his players. “(Motivation) has to come from within, I think,” Pope said. “I think these kids have to take responsibility and accountability for their teammates. Like me and coach Morgan tell them, we can’t go out there and make a pass, or take a shot, or set a pick. Those are things that you have to do to get your teammates open, or to get a rebound or loose ball.

“If one person will do it, it will trickle down to the next person. We need somebody to step up and be that leader for us.”

With the Huron League conference schedule opening up next Tuesday with defending champion SMCC, Pope still has high hopes for conference play despite the Big Reds’ early non-conference struggles. “We still have our goals ahead of us,” he said. “We still have a chance to win the Huron League, to win a district, and win a regional. Those are things to work on.

“We have to get better, and that starts with me.”

Tecumseh’s Drew Cameron led all scorers with 19 points, while Milan was led by Trevor Ballard’s 15. Other contributors were the Indians’ Peyton Norkey (10 points) and the Big Reds’ Jeremy Morgan (9).

The JV Big Reds also fell to 0-4, with a 44-28 loss of their own to Tecumseh.

Tuesday’s conference opener with SMCC is scheduled for a 7 p.m. tip; the JV game is set for a 5:30 start.

Big Reds stumble in loss to Chelsea

A high-energy first quarter between the Milan Big Reds and Chelsea Bulldogs showed some life for the visiting Big Reds. In a quarter that had 12 lead changes, it appeared that the contest would be close and hard-fought.

Jeremy Morgan attempts a shot against Chelsea's Jack Bush (20) in the Big Reds' 75-57 loss to the Bulldogs on Friday night. Morgan led all scorers with 21 points. (Photo by Paula Dotson)

Jeremy Morgan attempts a shot against Chelsea’s Jack Bush (20) in the Big Reds’ 75-57 loss to the Bulldogs on Thursday night. Morgan led all scorers with 21 points. (Photo by Paula Dotson)

Unfortunately for Milan, Thursday night’s opening minutes weren’t a catalyst for the rest of the game. The Big Reds eventually fell to Chelsea 75-57.

The final seconds of the opening quarter had a big momentum swing for the home Bulldogs, when Ryan Friss tied the game on a buzzer-beating jumper. Friss’ bucket tied the game at 21; Chelsea used that energy to outscore Milan 17-3 in the second quarter, taking a 38-24 lead into halftime.

A 10-2 Big Red run in the third cut Chelsea’s lead to 46-36, midway through the frame. A similar 7-0 run in the 4th took the deficit to 60-48, but an 8-0 Bulldog run following Milan’s seven-point swing put the contest firmly in Chelsea’s grasp.

Milan’s Jeremy Morgan led all scorers with 21 points, while teammates Trevor Ballard and Kenari Moore each had 12. Chelsea was led by Ronnie Buford’s 18.

Buford was one of three double-digit scorers for the Bulldogs.

Chelsea coach Mark Moundros, who played college football at Michigan, had five of his seven senior players take questions after the game. “Ronnie was putting up huge numbers for us tonight,” said Alexander Vasquez.

“Basically, we just had to keep coming after (Milan),” Vasquez added, on what the coaching staff told the players between the first and second quarters.

Moundros added that the senior class played a key role in their victory. “The seniors do most of the talking,” he said. “They just gave us great energy. We made a few adjustments to what (Milan) was running, and those adjustments worked. The seniors do a great job of leading us.

“There’s so much of them motivating our guys that I don’t really need to do it. I just try to gel it together, and they did a great job.”

Milan head coach Chris Pope attributed the loss to a lack of focus. “We didn’t handle the basketball,” he said. “We had too many turnovers and didn’t execute. The first quarter, we were able to get shots up and get 21 points, but in the second, we only got three points.”

The Big Reds had a nine-day layoff between games, while Chelsea played two games in recent days; however, Pope didn’t think that the time away played a role. “The kids that played still competed,” he said. “As a team, we just didn’t play well enough. If we could bottle up the first quarter and play like that for 32 minutes, we’ll be on the right track. We just lose our focus sometimes and then we go off.

“We just need to stay focused for 32 minutes, and if we can do that, we can play better basketball. We can’t have the mental lapses of (mistake after mistake). We need the kind of start we had (from tonight’s first quarter) to last the whole game.”

Several former Big Reds players, as well as coach Josh Tropea, pose for a picture in Thursday night's contest between Milan and Chelsea. Front row, from left: Latin Davis, Jesse Davis, Jon Swain, Donovan Verges. Second row: Lance Lewis, Tropea, Nick Perkins. Back row: Eric Price. (Photo by Paula Dotson)

Several former Big Reds players, as well as former Milan coach Josh Tropea, pose for a picture in Thursday night’s contest between Milan and Chelsea.
Front row, from left: Latin Davis, Jesse Davis, Jon Swain, Donovan Verges. Second row: Lance Lewis, Tropea, Nick Perkins. Back row: Eric Price.
(Photo by Paula Dotson)

Thanks to the holiday break, several former Big Reds – including Latin Davis, Nick Perkins, Lance Lewis, Donovan Verges and Jon Swain – will scrimmage against the current team.

“Hopefully when the (current players) see how (the former group) plays, they will see how hard they work,” Pope said.

The junior varsity Big Reds lost their contest to Chelsea prior to the varsity game. The 74-25 loss drops their record to 0-3.

The varsity Big Reds (0-3) play their next contest at home against Tecumseh on Jan. 6; the game is set for a 7 p.m. tip.

Milan completes schedule with home game in Feb. against Arbor Prep

After the original season opener against Saline was cancelled, Milan had 19 games on their schedule – one short of the max number that they could play in the regular season.

The Big Reds are now back to 20 games, as they are now set to host a game against Arbor Prep on Feb. 27, 2017. The Gators have former Milan player Garrett Gardette on their roster.

This will be the first-ever game between the two schools.

Arbor Prep played a game in Milan in 2014 as part of the Winter Breakout tournament. The Gators played Melvindale ABT and won the match 65-60.

The charter school opened in 2011 and is located in Ypsilanti.

Milan drops another close game, lose 54-52 to Onsted

The last time the Milan Big Reds and Onsted Wildcats faced each other, it was playoff time in March 2015, and both teams featured a star player whose last name was Davis.

In the first meeting between the two schools since that game, on Tuesday night, the Big Reds and Wildcats played a hard-nosed match at Onsted High School. Unfortunately for Milan, despite keeping the score close throughout, their efforts wouldn’t be enough; Onsted emerged victorious 54-52.

Jarius Hamilton led Milan with 18 points on Tuesday night against Onsted. (Photo by Paula Dotson)

Jarius Hamilton led Milan with 18 points on Tuesday night against Onsted. (Photo by Paula Dotson)

Following a steal, Trevor Ballard gave Milan a 47-45 lead with 4:51 remaining in the fourth quarter. A bucket 18 seconds later by Onsted’s James Dietrich kick-started a decisive 8-0 Wildcat run.

A three-pointer by Ballard with 41 seconds left, following three missed Onsted free throws in prior possessions, cut the Wildcats’ lead to 53-52.

In the game’s final seconds, Ballard heaved a three-point attempt that would have given Milan the lead. The shot caromed around the rim but missed; Jeremy Morgan – rebounding the junior guard’s shot – attempted a dunk which rattled in and out with four seconds left.

For the Big Reds – who had the lead five times across the contest, and whose largest lead was five points early in the 1st quarter – the contest was an improvement, but still a lesson. “(It was) a better game than we played the other night,” Milan head coach Chris Pope said. “The kids played hard. We made some mistakes, but got back in the game and had a chance to win it. We went for the win (with the three-pointer) and didn’t get it.”

The third-year coach attributed Onsted’s 8-0 run in the fourth – a pivotal point for both teams – to Milan taking bad shots. “We were taking one pass and shooting, or taking shots that weren’t in our offense,” Pope said. “It comes down to our IQ, knowing we’re up. It’s situational basketball, things I’ll have to take care of in practice – what we do when we’re up four or six, what we do to finish games.”

Onsted’s Skyler Lipinski led all scorers with 21 points. Jarius Hamilton led Milan in scoring with 18 points; Ballard contributed 15.

The JV Big Reds also fell to the Wildcats, 57-40, with their record dropping to 0-2; they also lost to Lincoln last Friday.

Milan has a nine-day layoff before facing Chelsea (2-1) in a road contest on Dec. 22. The two teams played each other most recently in last season’s playoffs, a game that the Bulldogs won.

Big Reds open season with close loss to Lincoln

The 2016-17 basketball season opened for both the Lincoln Railsplitters and Milan Big Reds on Friday night. Despite a game which included 54 fouls – 32 for the visiting Railsplitters and 22 for the Big Reds – Lincoln came away with a 62-58 victory.

Jeremy Morgan (10) drives for a basket as he is defended by Lincoln's Amari Frye in the 3rd quarter of Friday night's contest. Morgan and Frye led their teams in points. (Photo by Paula Dotson)

Jeremy Morgan (10) drives for a basket as he is defended by Lincoln’s Amari Frye in the 3rd quarter of Friday night’s contest. Morgan and Frye led their teams in points. (Photo by Paula Dotson)

Three ties and three lead changes occurred in the game’s final minutes; the contest took a turn in the Railsplitters’ favor after a controversial technical foul was assessed to Milan’s bench with 3:42 remaining. At the time, Lincoln led 56-52, and the made free throws extended the visitors’ lead to six.

Milan cut the deficit to 61-58 after a Maxwell Milliken free throw with 1:05 remaining in the match; the team did not foul a Railsplitter player on their ensuing possession until there were 13 seconds left.

The loss dampened Big Red scoring charges throughout the contest; Milan trailed by 13 after the opening quarter, used a 10-5 run in the second stanza to reduce Lincoln’s lead to 30-26, and took a 35-34 lead in the third; the lead increased to six points at one stage of the frame.

“I’m totally pleased with what we were able to accomplish in the second half,” Big Reds head coach Chris Pope said. “There were just a couple plays here and there that we weren’t in the right position for. That’s a learning experience. For some of these kids, this is all new to them.

“I’m happy with the effort. I’m just disappointed that we shot 39 free throws and only made 23.”

Pope refused to blame the loss on the controversial technical. “(The referee) told me that someone on the bench said that (a bad call was made), but it was someone in the stands who said it,” he said, referring to what happened on the play.

The Big Reds were led in scoring by Jeremy Morgan, who scored 19 points, and Jarius Hamilton, who scored 15.

Lincoln was led in scoring by sophomore guards Amari Frye and Tajh Chatman, who scored 15 and 13 points respectively.

“I have to give my team a lot of credit,” Railsplitter head coach Jesse Davis said. “(Frye and Chatman) showed a lot of poise. One of my questions about my team (coming into tonight) was how we could handle these kinds of situations, being so young. They handled it, endured the great comeback from Milan, and we pulled it off.

“I have to give Milan a lot of credit – those kids fought back. Both teams showed a lot of toughness, and we were lucky to pull it out at the end.”

The game was a homecoming for Davis; he was an assistant coach with the Big Reds for four seasons prior to leaving for the Lincoln head coaching job last year. “It was great (coming back),” he said. “I’ve got so many memories here. We brought back a culture that was laying dormant, and we won a state championship, but it was my time to move on. I’m happy to be where I’m at right now.”

The win also marks Lincoln’s third straight against Milan; the Railsplitters are 6-3 in nine games against the Big Reds since they rejoined the Huron League conference in 2000.

Milan’s next game is Tuesday at Onsted. The contest between the 0-1 Big Reds and 1-0 Wildcats is set for a 7 p.m. start.