Milan cruises by Gibraltar Carlson setting up regional final showdown with Romulus
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By Adam Bouton, for AnnArbor.com
WYANDOTTE - Milan was forced to regroup before the squad even played in its Class A regional semifinal on Monday against Gibraltar Carlson.
“With about nine minutes to go during warm-ups, we pulled the kids in (the locker room) and talked it over with them and I kind of lit into them,” Milan boys head coach Josh Tropea said. “They weren’t breaking a sweat during warm-ups and they were kind of loosy goosy and I’m not saying they were looking past to Wednesday, but they did not have the same intensity and passion that we usually play with.”
Both Carlson and Milan came out sluggish in the first quarter, with Milan holding just a 9-7 lead, but the pep talk paid dividends the rest of the way. The Big Reds turned up the intensity, outscoring Carlson by 39 in the final three quarters on its way to a 61-30 victory.
With the win, Milan (22-1) advances to a Class A Regional Final against Romulus (23-1), the No. 2-ranked team in Class A, according to the Associated Press. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday at Wyandotte Roosevelt.
Milan seniors C.J. Turnage and Stephen Evans helped Milan race out to a lead, slamming home back-to-back dunks midway through the second quarter to secure the momentum. The Big Reds turned several Carlson turnovers into easy fast-break buckets as Milan held a 29-14 halftime lead.
Tropea said that he issued a warning to his two leaders after the stagnant first quarter. It seemed to have worked.
“The change for me was Stephen Evans and C.J. Turnage, our two seniors, came out with a ton of fire in the second quarter,” Tropea said. “I whispered to them, ‘Do you want this to be the way that you go out?’ I think that they understood the urgency that we needed to play with and they led us and everyone else quickly followed.”
Turnage had 10 of his game-high 15 points at the halftime break. The game was never in question again after a 20-point second quarter for Milan.
“Those are two rusty teams in the first quarter,” Tropea said. “There’s no doubt about it. But we responded. The second quarter was great, but the first eight minutes were ugly. If we come out like that on Wednesday, it’s going to be over quick, I can tell you that.”
While Milan turned out the offensive efficiency in the second quarter, its defensive did a good job throughout of creating turnovers and forcing Carlson into deep, tough looks at the rim.
“I thought our 2-2-1 press was great tonight,” Tropea said. “We altered it a little bit. Usually we pressure the ball and force sideline, but (Carlson’s Daton) Aaron is such a special quick guard that our goal tonight was to sit on his right hand, make him give it up and then pressure the next guy because honestly, outside of him, we didn’t think anyone else could handle the ball and they really didn’t.”
“We didn’t play well,” Carlson coach Robert Raymond said. “We had 14 turnovers in the first half and a point guard who probably averages six assists and one and a half turnovers a game and he had eight in the first half. We just tried to do too much.
“They are a good basketball team. They played a large role in us not playing well. They were a good part of that. Josh does a good job with those kids. They have a great system.”
Milan had four players finish in double-figures led by Turnage’s 15 points. He added nine rebounds. Latin Davis had 13 points, Evans followed with 11 points and Nick Perkins posted 10 points for the Big Reds.
Larenell Tidwell scored 10 points to lead Carlson (17-5).
The Big Reds now turn their focus to Romulus, a team it hasn't faced this year but is well aware of.
“We knew a lot about them obviously,” Tropea said. “We played Romulus in the summer and (coach) Nate (Oats) has one of the best programs in the state. We’ve seen them play three or four times. It’s not that we don’t know what each other are going to do, it’s can you stop four Division I players in the starting lineup. We are going to watch Hoosiers, we’re going to watch Miracle and we’re going to hope to have our own. Anything can happen in 32 minutes.
Tropea knows that Milan is in the unique position of underdog, one in which they’ve thrived on before during this postseason run.
“Every team has goals at the beginning of the year and not everyone accomplishes them,” he said. “We had three goals to start the season: Win a league, win a district and get to Romulus. Well, we are here and what are we going to do about it. We’ll play with house money.
“There’s no pressure on us. We’re going to have fun. We’re going to go at it and at the end of the day, we’ll know where we stand with the team that is ranked 20th in the country by Max Preps. That’s pretty good. It’s going to be a fun Wednesday night.”