Teams that can shut down opponents with defense do well. Teams that add speed to that defense tend to do very well.
The Liberty Patriots faced one such team, the Westerville South Wildcats, who trailed by six points with a minute left in the third period, but outscored the Patriots 29-13 in the final nine minutes of the game and finished with a 41-31 non-league victory Tuesday at Liberty High School.
And the biggest problem for Liberty (8-4) was the Westerville South (8-7) full-court press. The Wildcats pressured the Patriots late in the third and all through the fourth quarter, forcing turnovers and turning those mistakes into points.
“It was a tale of two halves,” Liberty coach Ron Florey said. “We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well from the field or the free throw line tonight, but I think their pressure made us speed up, and when we did that we started making really poor decisions.
“The difference in the game was their ability to get us to turn the ball over, and once they turned us over, they got some pretty easy layups. Kudos to South. They did what they had to do to come back and win the ballgame.”
Liberty started well, but had trouble getting shots to fall all game long. Westerville South had the same problem, though, because the Patriot defense did a good job stopping the Wildcats’ half-court offense in the first half, forcing the visitors into tough shots and forcing five first quarter turnovers.
The Patriots led 11-4 after one quarter, but both teams had trouble getting the offense moving in the second, and South outscored Liberty just 4-3 in the second quarter.
In the second half, the Wildcats’ speed started to come into play. Liberty had a strong early start, but when Westerville South went to the press, the offense came to a near halt, the turnovers began to pile up, and the Wildcats’ transition game began to take over.
The Wildcats ended the quarter burying a pair of three-pointers in the final minute, tying the game at 18 after three quarters, and then started the fourth quarter with a 12-2 run, getting nine points on four consecutive possessions, to take the lead for good.
“That’s what it took for them to get started, and we relaxed a bit,” Florey said. “We didn’t get a couple close-outs on their three-point shooters, but I thought our game plan was solid and I thought we executed really well in our zone. Part of it may be that we got tired and we were playing at a pace we’re not used to, which made us even more tired.”
Liberty had just seven turnovers in the first half, but South’s press forced the Patriots into seven more turnovers in the third quarter, and that momentum carried into the fourth quarter, when Westerville South’s smothering defense forced Liberty into 10 turnovers in the final period alone.
“We talked about their ball pressure, the need to shot fake and pass fake against them, and to try to get some separation and space, and we didn’t do a good job of that,” Florey said. “When we didn’t pass fake, we just kept turning the ball over. Certainly, in the fourth quarter, we really struggled. We just couldn’t put two passes together.”
South held a 32-22 lead with four minutes left, but although the Wildcats struggled from the line in the fourth quarter, they did manage to make half their shots from the stripe — 8 of 16 — in the final quarter to put the game on ice.
Junior guard Hayley Hickman topped the Patriots with 11 points while senior forward Emily Perry added eight. Senior Kristen Levering and sophomore Lexi Fisher each finished with four points, Fisher hitting one three-pointer, sophomore guard Sydney Carey added three points with a fourth-quarter three-ball, and Lauren Hofer had one point.
Chenelle Moore topped all scorers with 13 points while Camille Mclellan added 10 for Westerville South.