ALPHARETTA — Except for a three-minute stretch in the second quarter, Central Gwinnett played the star-studded and highly ranked Milton Eagles close.
But the Black Knights gave up a handful of turnovers in that sequence and Milton’s lead ballooned from seven points to 15 with two minutes until halftime.
Behind a balanced attack, led by 22 points from center Julian Royal, Milton coasted to a 68-49 victory over Central on Saturday in the first round of the state playoffs.
“We did what we can’t afford to do against them, and that’s turn the ball over,” Central coach David Allen said of the second-quarter sequence. “The rest of the way, I think we played them even.”
Milton advances to the second round on Wednesday against Peachtree Ridge.
Royal, a Georgia Tech signee, also had eight rebounds and displayed light footwork with several post moves around the basket. A key matchup in the game was Royal against Central center Jerry Coleman, who gave up about four inches.
Coleman’s scrappiness helped him score 16 points, including nine in the second half. Guard Simeon Dennis led Central with 19 points.
Because of the size difference, Allen said he used a 2-3 zone for as long as he could. But Milton’s 3-point shooting brought that to an end, which opened up more space for Royal. Dai-Jon Parker, a Milton guard and Vanderbilt signee, hit three 3-pointers in the second half.
Milton, the defending state champion in AAAAA, pulled away on several fastbreak baskets early in the second quarter. Central (16-11) only had five turnovers in that quarter, but they all came in a short time as Milton (26-2) went on a 7-0 run in the first 2:20. Before that, Central had almost recovered from the 6-0 start to the game after three consecutive Milton layups.
“If it wasn’t for that spurt in the second quarter,” Allen said, “I think the outcome would have been a little different.”
Milton coach David Boyd, whose team has only one in-state loss (Miller Grove), said the Eagles didn’t play well after a week off.
“We missed a lot of shots we normally make,” Boyd said. “Bunnies, stick-backs, ordinarily we knock down. But I give Central a lot of credit. They controlled the tempo, ran their stuff. They’re young, and they’ll be dangerous next year.”
Looking back on the season overall, Allen said the team would lament its sub-par performance in the Region 8-AAAAA tournament.
“You can’t decide when you want to bring it,” Allen said. “The fact that we didn’t bring it in the second half of the region tournament is what put us in this position.”