Milford falls short of D-II final

DURHAM – The Milford boys basketball team didn’t have to deal with many bad days this season.

The scrappy Spartans continually found ways to win, as 10 of Milford’s 18 victories were decided by a single-digit margin.

The No. 2 Spartans couldn’t get over the hump on March 15, though, as No. 3 Coe-Brown Northwood claimed a 63-52 triumph in the Division II semifinals at the

University of New Hampshire’s Lundholm Gymnasium.

“We haven’t had one of those all year,” Milford coach Dan Murray said. “Our feet were stuck in the mud defensively and we just didn’t play with as much poise as we normally do.”

Scott Spenard did most of the damage for the Bears (18-3) with a game-high 18 points. Brody Ashley and Shawn Spenard added 11 points apiece and Sam Lupinacci chipped in 10.

“Defensively, they were blowing by our guards. We haven’t had anybody do that to us all year,” Murray said. “I think we just had a bad night. We won so many close games this year. We usually pull things out, but tonight, we just didn’t have a good night.”

Ryan Banuskevich led Milford (18-2) with 15 points, six assists and five rebounds.

“(Banuskevich) is a great player. We had to work really hard to keep him out of the paint and under control,” Coe-Brown coach David Smith said. “They have more than one player, but he’s pretty good. Everything kind of runs through him.”

Weston Pare also scored in double figures with 11, while Shane Winnett returned from injury to produce eight points and four rebounds. Evan Ryan added seven points and a game-high nine rebounds.

Milford was in control early, but the game turned late in the first quarter.

Winnett, a senior co-captain who missed the quarterfinal, converted a bucket to give the Spartans a 12-4 lead with about 1:30 left in the frame.

That’s when Scott Spenard took over. He scored the final seven points of the frame to trim the Coe-Brown deficit to 12-11 heading into the second quarter.

“That really settled us down,” Smith said. “He hit a couple of big shots to get us going.”

The Bears carried the momentum, parlaying the late first-quarter surge with a strong start to the second, resulting in a 16-2 run and a 20-14 advantage.

Six points from Evan Ryan in the second quarter kept the Spartans within striking distance, but Lupinacci’s twisting layup in traffic at the halftime horn supplied the Bears with their first double-digit cushion at 32-22.

“We really just had to play our game,” Smith said. “We’re not gifted with height, so we have to take advantage of our guard play.”

The Spartans managed to slow down the Bears in the third quarter and cut the deficit to 39-37, but Milford missed some opportunities at the foul line to reclaim the lead.

Milford’s typical shooting touch was absent, going 5 of 24 from 3-point range. The Spartans were also 7 of 15 from the line in the second half, and 11 of 20 for the game.

“I think that was the difference in the game. Even as bad as we played, it was still a (close) game and we couldn’t make our free throws,” Murray said. “Especially when you’re behind and they keep making those runs. If you don’t make your free throws, you know they’re going to have a burst.”

The Bears went on that burst to close the third quarter. Coe-Brown ended the third on a 9-1 run and re-established a 10-point advantage at 48-38 going into the final frame.

The Spartans made another push, trimming the Coe-Brown lead to four at 50-46 in the fourth, but the Bears never let Milford creep within one possession.

“We had to make free throws and at the end we hit some big free throws,” Smith said. “That puts the pressure on the other team.”

The defeat marks the final high school basketball games for the Milford seniors – Banuskevich, Winnett, Ryan, Pare, Nick Gutterson, Josh Bachilas and Nick Cauley.

Despite the disappointing conclusion, Murray will remember this team fondly.

“It’s one of my greatest years ever. They were so much fun,” Murray said. “We didn’t have any bad practices and we really didn’t have many bad games. There were no complaints. This was just a great, fun group. The group as a whole was just genuine kids and I think that’s why we won so much.”

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