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Minus two standouts, WAC almost pulls upset

March 8, 2012

It’s tough enough to beat a team like Milwaukee Rufus King with your best players on the floor. West Allis Central almost did it without them.

Thursday night’s WIAA boys basketball sectional matchup between perennial power King, the top seed, and third-seeded West Allis Central certainly lived up to its billing, with the Generals edging the Bulldogs 75-71 in a contest that featured 12 lead changes.

With King clinging to a 40-38 lead two minutes into the third quarter, Central standouts Jarvis Garrett, a junior, and Najeal McMillian, a senior, picked up their fourth fouls.

But the Bulldogs bit back. Senior forward Darvell Brown drained three-pointers on three consecutive possessions to give Central a 51-44 lead. Minutes later, Brown also picked up his fourth foul. With more than a quarter left to play, Central head coach David Mlachnik had no choice but to put three of his best players – and on this night, his three top scorers – on the bench.

“All I can say is that I’m incredibly proud of our kids and the way they played,” Mlachnik said. “It’s been like this all season. I take someone out, and someone else comes in and they do what they need to do. You can say the star players came out of the game, but after two of them went out, we had a seven-point lead.”

King senior forward Chris Stovall scored the game’s next six points, then senior guard Nic Stokes hit a jumper and three-pointer on the next two possessions.  The Generals grabbed a seven-point lead of their own heading into the fourth and built their biggest advantage of the night at 68-55 with just under five minutes to play.

Central, as it has throughout this season, rallied late. Brown returned to the floor, followed by McMillian and Garrett a few minutes later, and the Bulldogs charged to make it interesting. The trio scored Central’s next 13 points to pull within 70-69 with under 2 minutes to play.

King junior Austin Malone-Mitchell, who led the Generals with 15 points, hit three clutch free throws on consecutive possessions to build a 73-69 lead. McMillian responded to pull Central within two with a putback. The basket would be the last of his high school career, and the last of the Bulldogs’ season, before he fouled out seconds later.

Central was forced to resort to fouling.  King sophomore Jamell Posey iced the win with two clutch shots from the charity stripe, giving his team the decisive four-point edge with seven seconds left.

“I wasn’t nervous at all,” Posey said. “It’s the same kind of situation I’ve been in before. I was trying to stay calm and hit the shots. I didn’t think about the nerves. I just wanted to go out there and not let our seniors down, and that’s what I did.”

Central, which experienced a rejuvenation this season by capturing its first conference title in 33 years, ends the year 19-5.

“There’s not much else to say other than how proud I am,” Mlachnik said. “It hasn’t really sunken in yet, to be honest. I can’t believe it’s over. I really thought we’d be playing on Saturday. It sure doesn’t feel over.”

Brown finished with a game-high 20 points for Central. Garrett and McMillian added 15 and 14, respectively, and senior Tonnie Collier chipped in with 12.

Junior forward Montrell Hobbs scored 14 points for King, while Stokes also put forth a double-digit effort with 12.

King, the Milwaukee City Conference champion at 22-1 and its lone loss coming in out of state, advanced to face Racine Park (21-4) at 4 p.m. Saturday at Racine Horlick.

The way the Generals see it, the tournament is just getting started.

“We’ve got a good team,” Posey said. “I think we can get to state. If we keep doing the things we know we can do, I think we have a good shot to win it, too.”

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