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Liberty takes Northside Invitational Tournament

By Mike Forster

The Liberty boys basketball team sent holiday greetings to the rest of Region III:  We are coming together.

There has been no doubt that the team is blessed with an abundance of talent.

The team’s victory in the Northside Invitational Tournament (NIT) this past week shows that the Minutemen are figuring out how to put away games.

Liberty took the holiday affair through a focus on fundamentals:  crisp and plentiful passing, good shot selection and solid defense.

That focus paid off in a 61-57 final-game victory over Lord Botetourt.

That’s the same Botetourt team that beat the Minutemen by 20 points earlier in the season.

The difference in this one?  “We just played better defense,” said Liberty Head Coach Jeff Monroe.  “We shared the ball.” 

Indeed, good ball movement and sharing the load resulted in multiple players hitting double-figures in scoring.  More importantly, it resulted in the first-place NIT hardware being added to the Liberty trophy case.

Additionally, Liberty’s Carlton Payne and Chris Harmon were named to the all-tournament team.

Harmon also received the most valuable player award for the tournament.  Harmon, in turn, awarded the trophy to teammate Tyler Gilchrist (See commentary, page 3B).

Liberty opened with a 68-59 victory over Blue Ridge entry William Byrd.  The Minutemen followed up that win by topping AAA-level Franklin County, 70-69.  Then the Minutemen took Lord Botetourt in the finale.

“That’s the best I’ve seen us play in the last four years over a three-game stretch,” said Monroe.

The coach was quick to point to his staff for keeping the team motivated and ensuring the right personnel were in at the right times.

That staff includes Gary Lowery, Ron Brown, Greg Reynolds, HT Thompson and Carl Koenig.

The coach was equally quick to point to the fine efforts he got from across the roster.

To wit:  Liberty had multiple players in double figures including Ryan Nichols (14 vs. Byrd) and Troy Blake (11 vs. Franklin County).

Anthony Reynolds had 10 against Franklin County and 13 against Lord Botetourt.

Carlton Payne had three double-doubles.  He tallied 10 against Byrd, 11 against Franklin County and 15 against Lord Bot, while ripping down double-digit rebounds in each of those three games.

Harmon put up some truly impressive numbers, scoring 22, 19 and 16 points 

But this title wasn’t about who scored the most points.

Junior Justin Martin showed impeccable timing, nailing back-to-back three-pointers in the final.  

He had six treys for the tourney, showing he is getting more comfortable with launching his bombs.

Tyler Gilchrist was key from a defensive vantage, with Monroe siccing him on the most threatening foes.

“He’s a premier stopper,” said Monre of Gilchrist.  “They had to work for everything (they got off of him).”

What was most noticeable from this title was how things fall into place when there is good ball movement.  That movement is a function of the comfort the players feel with one another.  “They’re trusting each other more,” added Monroe, “that they can find the open guy.”

Monroe closed with an assessment.  “When we play smart, we’re as good as anybody in the state.”

Tournament results:

First round

Liberty 68, Wm Byrd 59

Northside 80, SRHS 56

Lord Bot 67, Martinsville 59

Franklin Co. 66, B’burg 45

Second round

Liberty 70, Franklin Co 69

Lord Bot 56, Northside 52

Wm. Byrd 54, B’burg 48

Martinsville 66, SRHS 53

Third round: 

Liberty 61, Lord Bot 57

Northside 63, Franklin 54

Wm. Byrd 46, Martinsville 41

B’burg 51, SRHS 39

In other action

The Minutemen rode the positive momentum from the NIT to a 69-57 home victory over a surprisingly strong Amherst squad.  Harmon (20 points) and Payne (17) once again led the scoring parade.  Reynolds chipped in with 13 in helping to push the Minutemen to a 3-1 Seminole record, good enough to put them atop the standings, along with Jefferson Forest and Brookville.

Payne, by the way, hit a three pointer, something that is becoming de rigueur for him.  Having that nice outside touch adds another dangerous tool to the six-and-a-half footer.

Up next

The Minutemen hit Rustburg this Thursday.  They then head off to R.E. Lee on Saturday before hosting Forest on Monday, in what are two of the more highly anticipated games of the season for Liberty.

If you can’t make the trip to Staunton, don’t worry:  The Leemen will visit Liberty on Jan. 31 for the rematch.