March 15, 2012
COLUMBUS — The Liberty Patriots were never fully out of any game this season, which is just another thing they can be proud of.
Unfortunately, the Patriots’ road to the state tournament ended Thursday night, as the Pickerington Central Tigers held down the Liberty scorers long enough to take a 60-58 victory in a Division I Region 3 semifinal at the Ohio Expo Center Coliseum.
Liberty (21-3) still finished the year with the best record in school history, a second Ohio Capital Conference Cardinal Division championship, and their first-ever district title, but the loss was still hard to take.
“They’re a good basketball team, but we have six seniors who are crying their eyes out right now, taking after their coach,” Liberty coach Greg Nossaman, clearly choking back tears of his own, said. “It’s been a great run with great kids.”
Pickerington Central (23-2) controlled the game much of the way, including in the first half, when the Tigers held an 11-point lead at one stretch and led 31-21 at the half.
Part of the trouble was early foul difficulty from senior center Nick Archer, who left the game early in the second quarter after picking up his second foul and did not return until the third quarter.
“That was big,” Nossaman said. “He’s our leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, and they kind of took him out of the game. Josh Pollner came in and did a good job, but we lose a lot of scoring when Nick’s out along with the rebounds.”
In addition, the Tiger defense smothered senior guard Jake Bischoff all evening. The senior had just four points in the first half and nine for the game, as Pickerington Central’s Chad Nelson and Javon Bess teamed to swarm Bischoff and take him out of the game.
“They did a nice job on Jake,” Nossaman said. “Nelson and Bess mixed it up on him and they both did a nice job. They shut down one of our scorers, but I thought A.J. Motika stepped up tonight. It was nice to see him play a whole game without hurting that shoulder.”
Pickerington Central would boost its lead to 12 points early in the third quarter, but Liberty battled back, cutting the deficit to four points, 37-33, with just under three minutes left in the third, and trimming it to just two points, 44-42, early in the fourth quarter.
“We got down 10 points, but we felt our game plan was still good,” Nossaman said. “Our kids hung tough and gave us a shot at the end, and I thought they did a great job shooting free throws.”
However, Pickerington Central’s answer came in the form of senior guard Caris Levert. The Ohio University recruit, whose 25 points and buzzer-beater defeated Hayes 73-70 at the Larry Eberst Classic in December, had a game-high 28 points for the Tigers, including a stretch where he scored 16 of 18 Tiger points in the third and fourth quarters.
“We just had no answer for Caris tonight, and I’m happy for him,” Nossaman said. “We probably should have doubled him a little bit more, but he still did a nice job of distributing the ball when we did double him. I thought we contested him pretty well, but he made some tough shots.”
Still, Liberty got within striking distance when Motika hit a pair of free throws with 41.7 seconds left to cut the Tiger lead to two points, 56-52, but after Bess split a pair of free throws in the one-and-one, Pickerington’s Jae’Sean Tate blocked a Motika shot attempt, gathered in the rebound and fed a pass to a wide-open Bess for a fast break layup that put the Tigers up 59-52.
Archer would hit a three ball with 12 seconds left, and after another Tiger free throw, Motika buried a three with three seconds to go, but Levert took the ball to the baseline after the bucket and held it in his arm as the clock ran out.
Archer had a solid second half, as did the rest of the team, finishing with a team-high 19 points while adding six rebounds. Motika had 11 second-half points and closed with 15 points, while senior Alec Charbonneau finished with 10 points plus six more rebounds.
Bischoff had four rebounds to go with his nine points, while Sam DeRoy added a three ball to close the Liberty scoring. Junior Alex Radkiewicz did not score, but did finish with a game-high seven boards.
Tate was the only other Tiger to score in double figures, finishing with 12 points.
Division I Region 3 Semifinals
Pickerington Central 60, Liberty 58
Liberty (21-3) 8 13 17 20—58
Pickerington Central (23-2) 15 16 13 16—60
L: Bischoff 3-2-9, Motika 4-5-15, DeRoy 1-0-3, Charbonneau 4-1-10, Archer 6-6-19. 3-point goals: 6 (Motika 2, Bischoff, DeRoy, Charbonneau, Archer). Totals 19-14-58.
PC: Nelson 3-0-7, Kern 1-2-4, C.Levert 9-5-28, Tate 6-0-12, Charlton 0-1-1, Bess 1-6-8. 3-point goals: 6 (C.Levert 5, Nelson). Totals 20-14-60.