LIBERTY — During the regular season, teams get used to the routine of two to three games a week.
Then eventually the tournament rolls around and that routine gets broken.
A lot of teams don’t usually take first round byes as the one-and-done format can do any team in.
The Liberty boys basketball team went back to the chalkboard.
As coach Levon Lamb described it, they had several chalk talks. He wanted his team to refine some things and try to sharpen some things up by going back to the fundamentals.
Friday night, in their Division III section bracket final against the South Range Raiders, those practices and talks were instrumental when things didn’t go well initially.
In the end though, the Leopards got past an opportunistic Raiders’ team 55-44.
“We knew, just from watching them on film and just following them throughout the season, they were going to come out and zone us,” Lamb said. “We wanted to try and be patient, take care of the ball, and just try to take shots they gave us. We didn’t necessarily want to settle for 3s but we can shoot the 3. We haven’t shot it too well to be honest. It just happened.”
It did happen, just not initially as South Range (7-17) raced out to a 12-8 lead after one on 5-of-6 shooting.
The Leopards (16-6) struggled to get anything going initially shooting just 3-of-15 in the opening frame, but eventually the shot attempts worked in their favor as they controlled the glass.
The game changed though when D’Andre Venters started making 3s in the second quarter as Liberty outscored South Range 18 to 9.
Venters made three 3s in the quarter and scored 13 of his game high 18 points when the Leopards needed an offensive start.
“He just took the challenge on his own and stepped up and hit a couple of 3s and they kind of opened it up for us,” Lamb said. “I think once he hit a 3, (Kalan)Turner hit a 3, it kind of opened up their zone a little bit. They were packing it in and playing kind of tight.”
“He shot the ball well,” South Range coach Will Klucinec said. “He really gave them the spark in that second quarter. You got to give them credit as well. They were able to knock down shots and turn us over when they needed to.”
James Davis added 16 for the Leopards.
The Raiders shot the ball well in the first half (8-of-11), but were limited on the offensive end and saw their game plan crumble when Venters gave the Leopards the spark they needed.
“I think the big thing was, we came in with a game plan, trying to get them to shoot a couple from the outside and they did a nice job, knocking a couple down,” Klucinec said. “We knew they were athletic and could press.
“We had to make sure that we handled the ball and I thought we had a few too many turnovers. But again, I think the game came down to them doing a great job of rebounding the basketball. They did a really great job getting second, third, and sometimes even fourth opportunities.”
Liberty out-rebounded South Range 31 to 28, but shot 29 more shots for the game to offset everything that worked well for the Raiders in the opening quarter.
Trailing 26-21 at the half, the Raiders tried to claw their way back into the game as it was within three on Landon Moore’s bucket to start the second half only to see Liberty respond with an 8-0 run to push it out to double digits, 34-23.
Moore led South Range with a 15 point, 11 rebound double-double. He was the only Raider in double figures.
“I thought we were close,” Klucinec said. “I thought we were in a good position, but when we needed that big possession, we needed that big shot, we just didn’t get it. We were never able to kind of close that gap and kind of get over the hump.”
South Range was packing it in with their zone defense trying to slow the game down.
Liberty countered that by pushing the ball when they had opportunities to try and not let them set up in the zone which worked from the second quarter on.
“We got away with it a couple of times, a couple of times we didn’t,” Lamb said. “We just wanted to roll the defense and run our set offense. Our thing was just to work the ball and be patient. If they give us a shot, take a shot. Trust each other and just play.”
Heading into the final quarter up 39-29, the Leopards never let the Raiders fully get back into it as the closest South Range got was eight, 49-41, with 1:35 left to play.
The Raiders didn’t score again until a Mark Naples’ 3 with 38 seconds left.
“I knew they weren’t going to quit,” Lamb said. “I knew they were going to keep playing and fighting. That was one of the things that we stressed during pregame and then at halftime as well.
“Our thing was just trying to keep the kids focused, take care of the ball, be patient, no turnovers, and nothing silly. We kind of teetered there for a second, but we gained our composure back and then we were able to finish it off.”
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