Liberty got out to an early lead thanks to excellent execution on the offensive end, where the Lion guards were able to beat their defenders off the dribble, forcing Patriot defenders to jump out on help-defense and leave holes in the interior that the Lions exploited repeatedly.
Lion center Kyle Quinn scored the team's first seven points, all coming on easy opportunities around the bucket, before the Patriots were able to adjust their defense and hold him to four points the rest of the way.
"Part of the reason they were getting good looks was because they were beating us off the dribble and we were jumping to help, and that meant that somebody else was open," explained Patriot head coach Pat Cruickshank. "I told them to concentrate on playing tougher defense on their man and to focus on forcing them baseline and not let them get into the middle - to force them to beat us from the perimeter."
Not only did the defensive adjustments force Liberty to settle for tougher shots; the Patriots simultaneously caught fire from the perimeter, knocking down eight first-half threes and a dozen on the night, putting on a shooting performance the likes of which Liberty head coach Jon Heinz had never seen.
"The biggest key in the game was knocking down big shots," explained Heinz. "They knocked down a lot of big shots - and not because they were wide open; they were pretty much all contested shots - and we just never had that."
The Patriots rode their hot shooting to a 15-13 lead at the end of the first quarter and a 14-point halftime advantage.
Nobody stepped up bigger than John Moffatt, who finished with a game-high 17 points and led the Patriots with seven rebounds. "John Moffatt has really stepped up in the last month and become a key player on this team," said Cruickshank. "He's not just getting it done scoring; he's rebounding too. I think he might actually be our leading rebounder right now."
Moffatt was joined in double figures by guards Jordan Knox and Aaron Dalton. Knox finished with 12 points and six assists, while Dalton knocked down four triples on his way to 15 points. Liberty sophomore Ryan Lett tied Quinn for team-high scoring honors with 11.
Heritage continued its playoff push this week with three tough league games - at Pittsburg (15-4 overall) Tuesday night, then at home against Deer Valley (10-12 overall) Thursday night before finishing the regular season on Friday night at Antioch (15-6 overall).
After being eliminated from the playoff picture on the final night of the season last year, Cruickshank hasn't been shy about letting his team know that they're playing for a high seed in the NCS playoffs this year.
"It's been a motivating factor," said Cruickshank. "When it got to a point where we weren't in contention for a league title anymore, I thought it was important to let them know just what we are playing for. If we win all three games this week we could be a No. 1 seed, and if we lose all three we could be a six, seven, or eight seed - the division is really up for grabs."
Note: Coach Heinz has recently started the Brentwood Basketball Academy, a competitive AAU program that will tip off this spring. The program is currently seeking East County players to fill 17U, 16U, 14U, 13U and 12U teams. For more information about the program, e-mail Heinz at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 625-2210.