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Liberty?s Minutemen survived the first round of the playoff winnowing process, as they beat Stuarts Draft 63-57 in front of a moderate-sized home crowd.
In typical Liberty fashion, the Minutemen ensured none of that crowd departed early, as they allowed the third-seeded (of the Southern Valley District) Cougars to stick around to the very end.
It took Kordero Thompson?s two free throws with 33 seconds left to finally ice the game, as he gave Liberty a 7-point cushion. Thompson?s points came after Stuarts Draft?s Coty Randolph converted his steal into a three pointer, narrowing the gap to 60-55.
?We may have taken them a bit lightly,? commented Liberty Head Coach Jeff Monroe. The Cougars wrapped up a 10-15 season.
Of course, coming off the heartbreaking loss to Brookville in the Seminole championship on Friday might have been a factor in the lethargy. ?We couldn?t close it out,? rued Monroe.
But, give the Cougars their due. The team played aggressively, holding their own against the fast-paced game the Minutemen love to run. The smaller players on Stuarts Draft found a number of backdoor opportunities. More than half of Randolph?s 18 points came from under the basket.
As a result, the coach was forced to keep his key players in for almost the entire game to fend off the pesky Stuarts Drafters. Monroe?s hope had been to give guys like Boo Payne, Chris Harmon, Thompson and Martrey Stevens some rest before Tuesday?s game against big, physical Harrisonburg.
Once again, the Minutemen were paced by Harmon and Payne. The first-team All-Seminole players each kicked in 18 points. Payne nailed a pair of three pointers, each coming from 10 o?clock on the arc.
The big guy is looking much more comfortable on the perimeter and showed off some solid ball handling skills, as well. Payne also had four blocked shots, one of them coming on a Cougar three-point attempt.
Thompson added 12 points in his quiet, unassuming fashion.
Key to the game was the pressure that Liberty applied to Stuarts Draft from the opening tip-off. Baker Stevens, Anthony Reynolds, Derrick Robinson and Derek Comer took turns tormenting the Cougar guards and making each trip up the court an adventurous one.
Cav season comes to a close
That outperforming squad from Jefferson Forest was eliminated from tourney play, losing 51-47 at Broadway.
Forest was outmatched but never let go. Falling behind several times by as much as 10 points, the Cavs would rebound to tie it up. ?It was typical of all of our games this season,? said Cav Head Coach Paul Smith.
With 40 seconds remaining in the game, and down by two points, the Gobblers took advantage of a Forest turnover, hitting shots from the charity stripe to build the final margin.
?All of the kids gave a good effort,? said Smith. ?They played hard the whole game.?
While the teams matched up fairly evenly, Broadway had an arrow in its quiver that the Cavs couldn?t neutralize: 6? 4? Luke Holloran. The senior proved why he was the Massanutten District?s player of the year. He was seemingly always around, scooping up rebounds and loose balls.
The Cavs were led by Ted Price with 15 points. Brandon Harrison and Todd tenPas each contributed 12.
A young team (Sonny Farmer and Tyler Brown are the only seniors), the Cavs exceeded expectations for the second straight season. ?This is the beginning of next season,? added Smith. ?We have the type of kids who will work hard in the off-season. We?d like to slide into the top three (of the District).?
Should the Minutemen prevail on Tuesday, at Harrisonburg, they will travel to JMU on Thursday evening. There, they will face the winner of the Rustburg-R.E. Lee game in the Regional Semifinals. During the regular season, Liberty faced off with both teams, splitting the series, one game apiece. Liberty also beat Rustburg in the District tournament semifinal.