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Just when we thought we had a grip on the Seminole.
Jeff Forest 57, Liberty 50.
It was the first time that JF has beaten Liberty since Smith’s first season, which was in 2006-07.
The Cavs shook off a long Christmas break, topping the much-heralded Liberty squad. The win came in front of an Orange Bowl-impaired crowd at the Sabredome.
Jefferson Forest played the defending district champions on the Cavs’ terms.
Yet, the game hinged not so much on what Liberty did wrong as on what JF did right.
For starters, the Cavaliers controlled the tempo of the game, and they did so from the start.
Halfway through the first quarter, the score stood at 4-2, in Liberty’s favor.
That period ended up in a very Princeton-like 9-8 fashion (Liberty’s lead).
The second quarter saw the teams draw even with each other on four separate occasions. JF took a 22-19 halftime lead, thanks to Andrew Woodall’s conversion of a one-and-one and Jason Stafford’s neat spin move in the paint for a bucket.
The Minutemen found things more to their liking in the third period.
After JF’s Dakota Hall and Liberty’s Gaitlin Wright swapped three-pointers, the M-Men went on a mini-tear.
Wright and Darius McCoy nailed treys.
Anthony Reynolds hit an eight-footer to put the M-Men up 35-27.
Forest Head Coach Paul Smith called a timeout to settle his lads.
The tactic worked, as Jake Johnston converted a three-point play, Stafford hit a turn-around jumper and Woodall drove the gut for a layup.
Suddenly, the Cavs were within a point.
They would take the lead for good, early in the fourth quarter.
It came in less-than-glamorous fashion, as Stafford hit four straight free throws, to establish a 44-40 lead.
“Our guys play well together,” said Coach Smith. “They play hard and can come back from adversity.”
Reynolds pegged a trey at the two-minute mark to pull the M-Men within three points.
The Cavs, however, showed superb ball movement the rest of the way. They refused to cough up the ball under a fierce Liberty press,
Instead of turnovers, the Cavs were rewarded with trips to the free throw line, courtesy of Liberty fouls.
JF made the most of these opportunities. In particular, Johnston went 6-of-8 on his free throws.
There were unlikely any gifts returned at the Johnston residence this Christmas. If the rest of the family is anything like Jake, it relishes every gift that is received.
Johnston also led all scorers, putting up 23 points.
Stafford added 14. His biggest contributions, however, seemed to be in the nine rebounds he hauled down.
He was dominant in the key, blocking five shots and proving a big obstacle.
He gave as good as he got in some very physical play.
Liberty was paced by Reynolds, who had 19 points, and by Wright’s 13.
That’s more than half the team’s points coming from its guard tandem.
What they had to say
Liberty Head Coach Jeff Monroe was quick to tip his hat to the Cavs. “JF played well,” he assessed. “They made the plays when they needed to. We didn’t.”
Jefferson Forest’s Marcus Jones, who endured a 33-6 loss to Liberty in football last fall said, “I’d call it a little bit of a payback.”
Said Stafford, “I thought it was great to beat Liberty for once. Jake Johnston, Marcus Jones and Dakota Hall were getting me the ball well. They were making good cuts to the basket.”
Coach Smith said, “Our guys showed a lot to come back (from the third quarter deficit) and to hold them off at the end. Anthony Reynolds was tough.”