Milford Mill junior forward Allen Costley had an emphatic dunk with 3 minutes, 13 seconds to play against visiting City that made a statement that the Class 3A North region belonged to the Millers.
In the closing minutes of the game Friday night, he was more subtle in helping make sure.
With the game tied and 37 seconds left, Costley was free under the basket as the Millers broke City's press. Sophomore guard Justin Jenifer found him with an outlet pass from half court for an easy lay in. Costley would go on to seal the win in the closing seconds when his shot was called good on goaltending as the Millers came away with a 70-65 win over the Knights.
Costley finished with a game-high 19 points, Jenifer scored 17, and Bruce Watkins added 15 as the Millers (24-2) will make their 13th state tournament appearance with a sixth state crown two wins away.
Leading by as many as 12 points midway through the third quarter, the Millers had to fend off a methodic rally by the Knights, who tied the game twice in the fourth quarter but could never take the lead.
Costley and the Millers simply wouldn't have it.
"The fourth quarter was tough," Costley said. "We just knew we had to play harder. We played hard in the first three quarters, but we knew we had to do more."
City junior guard Omari George (team-high 17 points) tied the game twice in the fourth quarter, but the Millers were quick to respond. The final time he had a smooth drive to the basket to tie the game at 55 with 53 seconds to play. But the Millers were able to get the ball to Jenifer at midcourt to beat the Knights' press, who was quick to get it ahead to Costley. The Millers had two stops, got a free throw from Dedrick Lee with 13 seconds left to make it 68-65 before Costley sealed it.
First-year coach Mike Silverman, an assistant coach on the Millers' state title teams in 2010 and 2011, couldn't say enough about his team's resiliency.
"We've been through so much adversity this year as a program. We're been battle tested and were able to maintain our composure and executed at the end," he said. "Back to practice tomorrow — that's a good thing. We're excited to get back to [states] after missing out last year and we're going to be prepared."
As for Costley's statement dunk, a follow that shaked the rim to give the Millers a 63-59 lead at the time, Silverman added: "That's just energy right there. It gave us a spark to close out the game."
City finishes its season with a 20-6 mark. The Knights got 15 points from John Grant and 12 each from Aaron Williams and Tim Bond. The second half and particularly the fourth quarter had little flow with both teams in the bonus early. The Millers converted 22 of 31 free throws, while City hit 16 of 24.
Class 3A North
4 Milford Mill 70, 8 City 65
C – George 12, Bond 8, Davis 10, Jo. Grant 15, Ju. Grant 4, Williams 12, Fisher 2, Pryor 2. Totals: 24 16-24.
MM – Costley 19, Jenifer 17, Watkins 15, Lee 6, Cooper 4, Jackson 2, Outlaw 2, Williams 5. Totals: 22 22-33 .
Half: MM, 31-23