MILTON, Ga. — Milton boys basketball cruised past Central Gwinnett in the first round of the 7A state tournament, earning the program its first playoff win since the 2015-16 season.
The Eagles have made the playoffs each of the past five seasons but have only made it past the first round once during that span. Despite the success the Eagles have seen under head coach Allen Whitehart, their Valentine’s Day win over Central Gwinnett marks his first playoff win in three years at Milton.
“It’s a monkey off your back,” Whitehart said. “I’ve got knocked out in the first round the past two years, so it was on the back of my mind. Tonight was one of those nervous ones where you really want to get a win.”
Central Gwinnett, the No. 4 seed from Region 7, came out swinging in the first quarter. The Black Knights’ athleticism presented the Eagles with a challenge right out of the gates, but the Eagles stood their ground to lead 19-12 after one quarter.
“Playing teams from Gwinnett County is always tough,” Whitehart said. “It’s usually a physical game and they make it hard on you, and we knew that going into this game.”
The Black Knights continued to attack on both ends of the court in the second quarter, at one point tying the game at 25-25.
But from that point forward, Milton took complete control of the game. The Eagles finished the half on a 14-1 run and went into halftime with a 13-point lead.
Freshman guard Kanaan Carlyle provided Milton with 17 points in the first half, including a spinning, 360-degree layup and a pair of three-pointers.
Region Player of the Year Bruce Thornton scored only two points in the first half and was forced to sit on the bench much longer than usual due to foul trouble. Thornton made sure to leave his mark on the game in the second half, as the sophomore scored 10 points in the third quarter to help the Eagles extend their lead to 67-44.
With starters resting for the final minutes of the game, the Eagles had no troubles holding on to their lead in the fourth quarter.
Carlyle finished the night with a game-high 26 points, and Thornton ended up with 17 points, five rebounds and seven assists. Freshman center L.T. Overton added 13 points and nine rebounds.
“I thought a lot of people did really good things, but especially Kanaan,” Whitehart said. “He was phenomenal tonight. He’s one of the best freshmen in America. Bruce is one of the best sophomores in America...and it was on full display tonight.”
The Eagles will now move on to the Sweet Sixteen and host North Cobb, the No. 2 seed from Region 2. The Warriors (15-12, 7-3) won 55-30 over Tift County in the first round of the 7A playoffs.