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Considering their opponent, the Liberty Minutemen hoopsters didn't appear to be too, er, rusty. The M-Men came away with a 62-43 win over a visiting crew from Rustburg.
The victory came to the Minutemen in their the first Seminole District game of the season. The Minutemen, who now stand 2-1, went 1-1 in an earlier tournament held at Broadway.
The tone of the Rustburg game was set early. Austin Porter dished to Jamaal Preston for an easy bucket. Rucker Shipp followed up with a three pointer.
A Preston steal-and-layup combo, followed by a Chris Sharrett trey kept the party going. Dajur Mobley's swish from three-point land established a 15-4 lead.
The game was at its bloodiest after Trey Wells snagged an errant Rusty pass and dashed downcourt for an easy layup, giving his Minutemen a 32-12 lead.
But give credit to the never-say-die Red Devils. Across the later part of the second quarter and well into the third, they trimmed that 20 point deficit to nine. Most of the juice during that stretch came off of timely steals of ill-advised Liberty passes and some nice shooting by Rustburg's Mike Jones, who led all scorers with 19 points on the evening.
But the Minutemen stepped up when it counted. Wells delivered a put-back.
Then Sharrett's aggressive defense forced a Rusty ballhandler into a travelling violation. On the subsequent Liberty possession, Sharrett drilled a three from the corner of the court.
Preston then delivered consecutive baskets to take the air out of the Rustburg balloon.
" I was pleased with the way we played 26 out of the 32 minutes last night," said Liberty Head Coach Jeff Monroe. "I thought our defense was really good at times."
The coach will get no argument from this quarter. His Minutemen held Matt Kimble to no points for the night. Kimble has been the Rusties' leading scorer this season, racking up 20 points in his team's season opener (against William Campbell). He is also the team's top returning scorer from last season.
Monroe sicced Shipp, a defensive demon on Kimble. When Shipp was docked, Kimble had to deal with the fast hands and fleet feet of Kendrick Thompson.
Meanwhile, Liberty's scoring was spread like a Christmas cheese ball. Twelve of the 15 guys donning red, white and blue came away with points.
That contingent was led by Sharrett and Preston, who scored 14 and 11, respectively. They were the only Minutemen in double figures. Thompson had eight and Porter added seven.
This was a nice district opener for the team.
"Offensive, I thought we executed really well at times," assessed Monroe. As already noted, the coach was generally pleased with the defense.
The win is extra important because of the VHSL's new playoff strategy. Rustburg (along with Brookville, Heritage and Tunstall) combines with Liberty to form Conference 30.
So, not only did Liberty get a leg up in the district standings, it also gets an edge in the conference, which is the starting point of the playoff run.
The only point of concern was that run by the Red Devils, where Liberty allowed them a hope. Said Monroe, "We still have to have that killer instinct and put away games when we have that chance.
Right on, Coach.