REYNOLDSBURG — Two weeks off makes some teams rusty. In the Liberty Patriots’ case, it was more like a cure.
The Patriots ended the regular season dropping two of their final three games, both on buzzer-beaters, but after a slow start, they opened tournament play with a flourish, using a solid second half to knock off the Dublin Scioto Irish 60-40 in a Division I Central District sectional championship game Friday at the new Reynoldsburg High School.
“It was great team effort,” Liberty coach Greg Nossaman said. “We played all 12 guys tonight and everyone contributed.”
Despite the 20-point win, Liberty (19-2) didn’t have anything easy. Dublin Scioto (11-11) trailed by 11 points after the first quarter, but rallied back to within two points, 17-15, thanks to a tough inside defense from the Irish and a cold shooting spell from the Patriots. Liberty did not score for the first 4:09 of the second period, missing their its first six shots of the quarter.
“First, we wanted to get the ball inside, and they know that, playing a team for the third time,” Nossaman said. “They did a really nice job fronting and we had a really hard time in the first half. Arch (senior center Nick Archer) missed some bunnies, but they fronted him very well. They played hard and played their tempo in the first half.”
But the Patriots recovered with an 8-4 run in the final 3:50 of the half, getting a pair of threes from junior Sam DeRoy to take a 25-19 lead at the halftime break.
Things didn’t stop there as senior A.J. Motika, who re-injured his shoulder during that final regular season game at Westerville South, drained a pair of threes in the first 75 seconds of the second half, putting Liberty up 31-21.
“Everyone contributed tonight,” Nossaman said “Sam DeRoy came off the bench and hit two threes, Motika was injured in our last game (at Westerville South) so that two weeks definitely helped him. He came out in the second half and hit two threes unguarded. We have other weapons. If you take away Bisch (senior guard Jake Bischoff) and Arch, we have other guys who can score.”
The Patriots picked up the offense once the lead hit 10 points. Dublin Scioto was forced to come out and pressure the guards on the perimeter, which finally opened up play on the inside and the baselines.
“Once we got it to double digits, they had to come out a little bit,” Nossaman said. “When we were able to pull them out, especially in the man, they pressured the ball and we were able to get around. We saw a lot of penetration and kicking and getting the ball inside. Arch got going there and I thought Bisch had a great floor game tonight.”
Defensively, the Patriots had a solid game all around, but held Scioto to just six points in the third quarter. A spike in offense in the form of a 10-4 run in the final 4:55 of the third quarter, helped Liberty to a 41-25 lead after three, and a solid fourth quarter helped Liberty to a 23-point lead with 3:14 left, one accentuated by a thunderous alley-oop dunk by Archer off a pass from junior Alex Radkiewicz.
“We knew they were going to pressure us and deny us, especially Bischoff,” Nossaman said. “We were able to get a fake going one way and get some backdoors. That’s what our offense is designed to do. It opens it up on the perimeter with the backdoor, and once they start sloughing off a little bit, now the outside shot opens up.”
Bischoff led all scorers and topped four Patriots in double-figure scoring with 16 points plus three steals and three rebounds. Senior Alec Charbonneau added 13 points, four boards and three steals, while Motika finished with 12 points, including his two threes, plus three rebounds.
Archer had 10 points and added seven rebounds, DeRoy finished with his two threes for six points, and Radkiewicz closed with three points and a game-high eight rebounds.
Josh Ashwill topped the Irish with 13 points, adding five boards.