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Minutemen top Marion to make State semifinals

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Defense, Harmon shine in big win

By Mike Forster

Liberty unleashed the dogs and easily dispatched Marion Senior High School.  The win advanced the Minutemen to the state semifinals, where they faced Cave Spring.  That game took place Tuesday, at VCU’s Siegel Center.

The final score of 61-50 does not begin to reflect the Minutemen’s dominance over Marion.  That domination kicked into high gear in  the second half.

We wanted to get the tempo up in the second half,” said Liberty Head Coach Jeff Monroe.  “We think we did that.”

The coach would have had a hard time finding anyone in the Salem Civic Center who disagreed with that assessment.  

His Minutemen turned a 27-19 halftime advantage into a 44-23 lead midway through the third quarter.

Liberty led the Scarlet Hurricanes by 17 with two minutes to go.  Marion only closed the lead during garbage time.

The Hurricanes looked as though they were the ones in need of shelter.  Noted for their quickness and exceptional outside shooting, both were offset by the superior Liberty performances.

In particular, Marion could not find the answer for Chris Harmon’s acrobatic drives through the paint.

The senior put up a game-high 20 points, most of which came as he snaked through maze of Marion defenders.  He was also perfect on his two attempts from beyond the three-point arc.

Harmon played as complete a game as you would want.  In addition to his offensive exploits, he grabbed seven rebounds and had three steals.

But lest you think this was the Chris Harmon show, note well that this was a complete game by the complete team.

Ryan Nichols sparked the second quarter spurt with back-to-back baskets before dishing off to Kordero Thompson for a 6-foot uncontested jumper.  Harmon went end-to-end just before the end of the half.

In the third quarter, Harmon sliced a deft pass to Thompson, who went  behind-the-back for two more of his 15 points.

Harmon tipped back a bucket and capped that off with a three pointer before Justin Martin nailed a three of his own.

It was only the third quarter and you could tell this one was over.  The Minutemen, to their credit, never took their foot off the gas.

That was most likely because things were very much in doubt in the game’s early stages.

After struggling to a 17-17 tie at the end of the first quarter (due in large part to three-point sniping by Marion’s Gavin Roe, who hit two treys), Liberty responded in a big way.

“We knew Marion could shoot,” said Monroe.  “We had to get out on their shooters.”

His charges responded, in kind.  Applying more perimeter pressure resulted in Roe going 0-for-10 from three-point land the rest of the game.

Monroe employed his platoon strategy in the second quarter.  Jonathan Hayden, Ryan  Nichols, Tyler Gilchrist, Kordero Thompson and Troy Blake took the hardwoods in the first four minutes.  That quintet kept the Hurricanes scoreless.

They were spelled by Harmon, Carlton Payne, Anthony Reynolds, Brandon Sparrow and Justin Martin.  That group did only slightly less well, allowing but two points to Marion.

This approach hit a speed bump when Payne went down with a twisted ankle in the third period.  At that point, Monroe had to make a critical decision.  The coach took the long view, pulling Payne and having Athletic Trainer Brian Stennett ice down the ankle, anticipating that the squad would make it through the game without him, and that Payne would be ready for the upcoming Cave Spring game.

Monroe didn’t just prove he is a master strategist.  He proved that a few weeks into the season, when he generously used his bench  even when close games were on the line.

That method, which may not have brought home many huge victories, paid off in terms of significant bench when it was most needed.

In this case, Brandon Sparrow proved more than up to the task of providing the inside intimidator presence.  Sparrow would wind up hauling in six rebounds for his mates.

Monroe couldn’t begin to single out players.  He noted that Harmon, Payne and Thompson all have provided big games recently.  Yet, he noted, “We are more than one or two players.”

Game notes:

-With Brookville losing to Cave Spring the night before, a sixth game this year between the Bees and the Minutemen was averted.  Monroe expressed neither relief nor pain that his team wasn’t seeing the Bees again.  “We’re just happy to be going to Richmond,” he said.

-The coach headed to Richmond a couple of days early.  On Sunday,  the VHSL hosted a lunch for final four coaches.  Also planning to attend were Harmon, Thompson and Gilchrist.

-Liberty had a nice crowd at the Civic Center, including a well-behaved, but vocal student section. 

-Although only six Minutemen scored, nine of them pulled in rebounds.  All 14 players saw some court time.

-Roe led the Hurricanes with 17 points.  Brock Hanna, a fine point guard, had 12.

-The only bad stat in the game for Liberty was their free throw shooting:  10-for-24.  In fact, the team’s three-point shooting percentage (50%) was better than its free throw percentage (42%).

-The Liberty pep band didn’t make the trip to Salem, but is expected to show up in Richmond.