January 28, 2012
It wasn’t officially “Pack the House Night” at Liberty High School on Friday night. Both Olentangy and Liberty’s crowds just made it seem that way.
Olentangy rallied from a 10-point deficit after three quarters to tie the game, but Liberty used the foul line to secure a 50-45 Ohio Capital Conference Cardinal Division win before a huge, near-overflow crowd that never stopped cheering on their teams.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Liberty coach Greg Nossaman said. “I’d rather coach in these kind of games than in 20 to 30-point blowouts. These are the games that build character and help you find out where your team is. We’ve had four games like that where we’ve been down or tied and our crowd has helped lift us up.”
“I don’t think there is a better atmosphere in Ohio than these games,” Olentangy coach Chris Kelly said. “I’m glad the kids get to experience games like this and crowds like this. I’m proud of our community for showing up in the numbers they did. That’s what the high school basketball experience should be all about.”
The victory not only keeps Liberty (15-0, 10-0) undefeated, but is their fifth straight win over Olentangy (7-8, 4-6). The Braves’ last win came on December 18, 2009, a 59-58 win in overtime at Olentangy High School, and for much of the game, it seemed like the Patriots would have it somewhat easy.
Liberty led 11-6 after one quarter and 25-19 at the half, then outscored the Braves 12-8 in the third quarter to take a 37-27 lead. Rebounding and defense proved a large part of the Patriots’ success, as Liberty outrebounded Olentangy 44-27 overall and 28-11 in the first half. Liberty also had 13 offensive rebounds in the first 16 minutes while Olentangy had none.
“If you would have told me we would have held them to 45 tonight, I would have taken it right away,” Nossaman said. “We’re playing good defense and rebounding pretty well, but we have to get it going offensively.”
But defense was solid both ways, and for Olentangy, especially in the fourth quarter. The Braves slowly chipped the lead down to six, five, three and one point before senior Stephen Walczak split a pair of free throws to tie the game at 43 with 2:37 left.
“I thought our defense was pretty phenomenal,” Kelly said. “We had a great effort on defense overall, and we knew we were going to have to have that to win.
But Liberty never allowed the Braves to take the lead. Junior Tyler Welch was most impressive in the final period, scoring all eight of his points in the frame, and hit a jumper with 1:25 left to put the Patriots back in the lead for good.
“Tyler did a nice job coming off the bench,” Nossaman said. “That’s the one thing about this team. As a coach you have to pull the right strings at the right time, and Tyler came in and hit a layup, hit that jumper to take the lead and hit four free throws for us. We’ve had guys step up for us this season, not necessarily on offense, but he was the one tonight.”
Olentangy had its chances, but couldn’t get the ball to go through the hoop. The Braves missed their next five shots after tying the game, and Liberty went 5 of 7 from the line down the stretch to nail the win down.
“The kids did a great job of getting themselves some great opportunities,” Kelly said. “Unfortunately, they just rolled off the rim. We got good shots and the kids worked hard to get them, but it was just one of those things. The ball wouldn’t drop.”
Senior Jake Bischoff led all scorers with 19 points for Liberty, hitting four three-pointers along the way. Senior Nick Archer added 10 points and Welch his eight, but according to Nossaman, the Patriot players were not pleased with their performance, despite the win.
“Our guys weren’t happy in the locker room,” Nossaman said. “They understand. We always say it’s not if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game, and they know we didn’t play that well tonight, but they still know there is room for improvement after 15 games.”
Junior Seth Clark topped the Braves scoring with 14 points. Seniors Jordan Gingery and Stephen Walczak followed with nine and seven points, respectively, but despite the defeat, Kelly was pleased with the effort.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our guys,” Kelly said. “Our effort was definitely enough to win the game, but the ball just didn’t roll our way in the last couple of possessions. That was a shame, because our guys played so darn hard tonight. I’m proud of my kids, but disappointed for them at the same time because they put so much work into it.”