Down 12 points with just under three minutes left in the third quarter, the West Allis Central boys basketball team could have cashed it in Saturday night in its WIAA Division 1 regional final showdown with Milwaukee Vincent.
An 8-0 run to close the third and start the fourth quarter got the game close again, then a 13-3 run to close the game and give just enough cushion for the No. 3 seeded Bulldogs to earn a 70-69 win over the No. 2 seeded Vikings.
“We’ve told the guys all season to play all 32 minutes,” Central coach David Mlachnik said. “(Vincent was) hitting shots in that third quarter and I said ‘Guys, some of those shots are tough shots. Keep playing the ‘D’ and they will start missing those in the fourth quarter, but we just have to box out and rebound.’
“The guys believed and they continued to play defense.”
The Bulldogs (19-4), usually close to an 80 percent shooting team from the free-throw line, made it interesting down the stretch, connecting on seven of 14 from the stripe in the fourth quarter and just 17 of 32 for the game (53 percent).
“We are a pretty good shooting free-throw team, so to see that, I was like ‘What is going on?’” Mlachnik said. “Sometimes the shot is not going to go, but you have to stay with it mentally, and that is the one thing we did do tonight (at the line).”
Senior forward Tonnie Collier got to the line six times in the final 2 minutes, 22 seconds and connected on just three of them, but he hit one on each trip.
“I had a bad first half,” said Collier, who had eight of his 15 points in the fourth quarter. “Coach talked to me and said,'Stop putting the ball on the ground.' I adjusted and came out with a strong second half.
“I thought about it too much (at the line). I should have just went and shot it. Fortunately we were able to come up with the win.”
Junior guard Jarvis Garrett also had eight of his 15 points in the fourth quarter, but it was his defense that allowed Central to not only dig out of the hole, but take the lead.
The 5-foot-11 Garrett guarded Vincent’s top scorer, 6-5 Deonte Burton, who was a big reason the Vikings (17-7) turned a tie game at the start of the second half into a double-digit lead, scoring 13 points in the third quarter.
“Jarvis took it personally,” Mlachnik said of Burton’s third-quarter showing. “I thought he did a great job on him, making him earn everything he got.”
In the fourth quarter, Burton shot just 1 of 4 from the field and was 2 of 6 from the free-throw line. The final two misses came with eight seconds left with the score 68-66.
“I play with him in the summer, so I know everything he is going to do,” Garrett said. “I thought I should step up on him. I did and we came up with the win.”
Najeal McMillian made it a four-point game with two seconds left and Mlachnik instructed his team to let Vincent shoot the final shot uncontested, which Nathyas Abdullah hit to make the final score 70-69 as time expired.
Burton had a game-high 23 points, including three of the Vikings’ seven three-pointers in the game, while senior guard Isaiah Jackson added 19 points.
Next up for the Bulldogs is a showdown with top-seeded Milwaukee King, Thursday night. It’s the same team that knocked Central out of the playoffs last season.
“We’re going to go to practice Monday and start getting ready,” Mlachnick said. “It is going to be a tough matchup.
“Our school, the community and the fan support has been awesome.”