Including a win in the Don Nelson Classic, the Lions have beaten the Patriots twice going into last Tuesday’s matchup on the Patriots’ home court, where Liberty got 11 points from senior forward Darius Brown, senior guard Juwan Blakeley and junior guard Brandon White to complete the season sweep. The 51-42 victory moved the Lions to 18-5 overall; 5-2 in Bay Valley Athletic League play. Heritage is now 2-5 in league but maintains a solid 14-9 overall record.
“After what I’ve been through, it feels damn good,” said Lions head coach Jon Heinz. “Forget boys basketball; they beat us in everything. Of all the major sports, we’re the first Liberty team to really step up and assert our dominance. It’s been huge.”
The sweep wasn’t easy. While the Lions led for the majority of the game, the Patriots kept it close throughout. An upset seemed a distinct possibility when a late-third-quarter bucket from Patriots senior guard Bryce Nicolicchia gave Heritage a 39-38 lead heading into the final frame.
But Liberty bore down and put the game away – although the fourth quarter was far from a beauty contest. Five players scored for Liberty, while Heritage sophomore forward Shon Briggs’ three points were all the Patriots could muster. And the first of those three didn’t come until well after the quarter’s halfway point.
“One of our strengths is running the ball,” White said. “I think we had gotten away from running the ball a little bit. Once we started running, we controlled the pace a little more and put the game away.”
Briggs led the Heritage attack with 13, followed by junior forward Ryan Smith’s 10. Heritage junior guard George Johnson drained three shots from behind the arc, but none of Johnson’s teammates joined the three-point party.
“We turned the ball over way too many times in the fourth quarter,” said Heritage head coach Pat Cruickshank. “Obviously, give Liberty some credit for how they played; the heart that they played with. They put some pressure on us. But we shot ourselves in the foot. We had the lead and at least three or four possessions with the lead, and just couldn’t extend it.”
The night wasn’t a complete loss for Cruickshank’s team, which held Liberty to its lowest point total since its previous regular-season win against Heritage, when the Lions put up 46. It was also a stronger showing than the 92-48 loss the Patriots suffered at the hands of Deer Valley.
“We just wanted to create some stuff on defense to set up some easy looks on the other end,” Cruickshank said. “As much as the turnovers hurt us, allowing the late buckets did too. But I’m OK with the low-scoring game. That’s fine for us.”
Heritage did manage to pull off a victory Friday, when its JVs defeated Liberty 44-33. The Patriots’ Frank Kurtz led all scorers with 11, while Logan Rogers paced the Lions with nine.