Friday night’s Liberty-Olentangy boys basketball game featured a packed house, cheering fans and an electric atmosphere — oh, and some exciting basketball, too.
The Patriots and Braves capped off a wild night on the court with a thriller in the varsity game, Liberty rallying from an 11-point deficit late in the third to eke out a 59-56 Ohio Capital Conference Cardinal Division victory over Olentangy — all this after a close freshman game and a junior varsity contest the Patriot reserves won in five overtimes, the fifth overtime going to sudden death.
“It’s high school basketball,” Liberty coach Greg Nossaman said. “What an atmosphere. The JV game goes to five overtimes and the freshman game ends up being close. It shows how good a rivalry this is, and this is what high school basketball is all about.”
But the varsity game was just as thrilling. Liberty (4-0, 3-0 OCC Cardinal) trailed by two after the opening quarter and led by two at the half only to see Olentangy (2-3, 1-2) outscore the Patriots 18-7 in the third.
“Any time inter-districts get together, I don’t care what the records are,” Nossaman said. “Last year we beat these guys by 33 at our place and by one over here. Anyone can beat anyone on any night.”
The Braves opened the third on a 9-0 run and scored 16 of the first 19 points of the period, getting contributions from several players, including seniors Stephen Walczak and Jordan Gingery and juniors Seth Clark, Brett Boggs and Craig Mathews.
“I didn’t think we played defense very well tonight,” Nossaman said. “They were able to get around us, to penetrate and kick and get open looks. I thought they played very well. I thought Walczak did a nice job, and I thought Clark played well. Gingery and (junior Erik) Brandt do a nice job of shooting, and they can spread you out. That first five is pretty productive.”
Liberty didn’t help itself from the floor in the third, going just 3 of 15 from the field and 1 of 8 from three point range in the period.
“This is the fourth game in a row where teams have played zone on us, and we stunk it up from the floor,” Nossaman said. “We were 7 of 29 from three-point range, and that’s too much. I thought we did a decent job getting the ball inside, but we missed nine point-blank layups. We have to get better in that area.”
But Liberty junior Alex Radkiewicz scored on a reverse layup just before the third quarter horn to cut the Patriot deficit to nine, 46-37, after three quarters, and Liberty scored the first 12 points of the fourth, all coming from either senior Jake Bischoff, senior Nick Archer or junior Sam DeRoy, with DeRoy burying a three with 3:08 left to give Liberty the lead again.
“We were down 11 with two minutes to go in the third, and I looked at my assistant and said, ‘We’ve got to do something,’” Nossaman said. “We put in a smaller lineup and started to press a little, and we got a couple steals and made some layups.”
Olentangy tied the game twice after that on a three and a bucket from Clark, but the Patriots won the game at the line, as Bischoff converted three consecutive one-and-one situations in a 28 second span.
“That’s what he’s supposed to do,” Nossaman said. “Those free throws were big. To go to the line with that kind of pressure and make all six was big. Last year, we lost two games like that where one of our players missed those shots, but Jake’s the one person I’d want at the line for those shots.”
Brandt hit a jumper with eight seconds left and Clark downed a three-pointer with three ticks remaining, but Bischoff’s last two free throws sealed the game.
Bischoff topped the Liberty side with 22 points, 11 coming in the final quarter, and had a team-high four threes. Archer had 10 points, including eight in the fourth, while DeRoy and senior Josh Pollner finished with six points each.
Clark topped all scorers with 25 points on the night for Olentangy, also canning three triples along the way. Walczak was strong inside and closed with 13 points for the Braves, while Brandt, Gingery and senior Ryan Shaffer added five points each.