MILTON — Peachtree Ridge was definitely not intimidated by playing a Milton team that is not only Georgia’s top-ranked Class AAAAA team, but also nationally ranked.
However, in their second round game of the state tournament Tuesday night at Milton, the Lions were a bit overwhelmed, at least in the first half.
The host Eagles came at Peachtree Ridge in waves, placing five players in double figures and used a huge run over the last minute of the first quarter and throughout the second to build a comfortable lead and cruise to a 74-58 victory.
Led by 18 points and eight rebounds from junior Division I prospect Evan Nolte and 16 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots from Georgia Tech signee Julian Royal, Milton (27-2), ranked No. 3 in the nation by ESPN and No. 4 by USA Today, advanced to the state quarterfinals, where it will take on Mill Creek on Saturday in Carrollton.
“Their size and all that talent got to us a little early,” Peachtree Ridge coach Keith Arrington said after his No. 5 state-ranked Lions’ season ended at 23-6. “(Beating the Eagles) is a pretty tall order.”
Size was a big factor in helping Milton jump out to a quick 6-0 lead in the first 1:59 of the game, especially the 6-foot-8 Royal and 6-7 Nolte, whom the Lions never really had an answer for.
Still, Peachtree Ridge managed to hang tough throughout most of the first quarter, pulling as close as 9-7 after a tip-in by Richie Everette with 2:40 left in the first quarter.
And the Lions trailed just 15-10 when Shaq Morris flashed through the lane and hit a jumper from the foul line with 1:33 left in the opening frame.
But from that point, the rest of the half belonged to Milton as Furman-bound senior Jordan Loyd came up with a steal and went the length of the court for a layup, and then fed Royal for an alley-oop tip-in to stretch the Eagles’ lead to 19-10 by end of the quarter.
That lead grew even further when Milton turned up its quickness on the defensive end of the court in the second quarter.
The Eagles forced the Lions into nine second-quarter turnovers and converted pretty much all of them into points.
After a quick basket by Corey Heyward to start the period, Nolte, Loyd and Royal led a 12-4 run that pushed the Milton lead to 31-16 with 3:35 left in the half.
Peachtree Ridge tried to answer, pulling to within 33-21 after Daryan Griffin’s 3-pointer with 2:29 left in the half, but Royal scored four quick points in the paint and ignited an 8-0 run over the final 2:04 to send the Eagles into intermission with a 41-21 lead.
“We did two things (in the second quarter) — we trapped the ball screen and went inside more,” Milton coach David Boyd said. “We scouted (Peachtree Ridge) pretty well, and we knew they’d try to work the ball on the perimeter. So we tried to double the high ball screens and trap them.”
While Milton executed its game plan to near perfection in the first half, Peachtree Ridge showed a little fight with some physical play, plus a little execution of its own, in the second half to keep the game from getting out of hand.
Though they trailed by as much as 23 points early in the half, the Lions fought back behind Heyward, who scored 14 of his team-high 18 points in the final 16 minutes, pulling as close as 13 points three different times in the fourth quarter.
“We played hard, especially in the second half,” Arrington said. “I don’t have any complaints about the effort. We wanted to (play more physical). Maybe we didn’t do it enough (in the first half). That’s who we thing we are — that’s a team that’s physical and gets after it.”
Heyward added four rebounds and three assists to go along with his points, while Morris was the only other Lion in double figures with 12 points, along with four steals.
Loyd joined Nolte and Royal in double figures for Milton with 12 points, and added six rebounds and five assists, while Ohio State signee Shannon Scott added 10 points, six rebounds and four steals and Auburn commitment Shaquille Johnson came off the bench to chip in 10 points. Vanderbilt-bound Dai-Jon Parker also dished out a game-high six assists.