The last time fans saw the Liberty and Fort Osage boys basketball teams meet, it was a district finals white-knuckler and Fort Osage left the Blue Jays gymnasium with a successful title defense.
Friday in Fort Osage’s confines, Liberty had no intention of letting things come down to last minute, taking advantage of a significant Indians scoring drought in the second half to pull away for a 78-56 non-conference victory.
The Indians, who fell to 3-1 with their first loss, had nearly eliminated a 16-point second-quarter deficit and still were within range when Skyler Thompson’s two free throws with about five minutes left in the third made it 49-41.
But they didn’t score again until Logan Haugmo split a pair of free throws with 6:34 left in the fourth, and by then Liberty had raised the margin to 20 at 61-41. Fort Osage shot just three of 14 in the third quarter (18 of 55 overall) and missed the front ends of two one-and-one free throws early in the fourth.
Indians coach Josh Wilson said the drought was a combination result.
“When you go that long without scoring, and they hit some big shots down the stretch ... we were missing opportunities down there, and they were making opportunities.” Wilson said. “The kids miss a free throw and start to wonder if they’re ever going to get a basket.
“Some of the shots (the Blue Jays) were making, we wanted them to shoot.”
Liberty (2-0) broke a 10-10 tie late in the first quarter with seven points, then fed 6-foot-10 Jeff Kinder for three baskets early in the second and got transition hoops from Sam Griffin and Kellan Turner to help raise the margin to 29-13.
But some quick-driving guards and perfect free throw shooting to take advantage of Liberty’s fouling issues got the Indians back into it. A three-point play by Bailey Williamson with 1:44 left and Brian Starr’s 3-pointer 20 seconds later made it 34-32 before Kinder and Turner scored to give Liberty a bigger cushion after halftime.
“We didn’t make adjustments defensively with our feet,” Liberty coach Roger Stirtz said of the second quarter. “We kept playing defense with our hands, and that hurt us. We gave them some momentum at the free-throw line.”
Wilson said the Indians were able to gain an offensive edge with their four-guard lineup.
“When you put in a four-guard lineup out there against two big guys, you can take advantage of that,” he said.
One of those guards, senior Josh Alt, agreed, but added that the lineup had its drawbacks when the Blue Jays were able to feed Kinder and the 6-4 Griffin.
“I had the advantage with the big guy guarding me, but that’s a disadvantage when I’m guarding on defense,” said Alt, who led the Indians with 12 points. “We run the same stuff as last year, but we really try to get out and run because we don’t have all the big guys.”
Haugmo’s seven points early in the third allowed the Indians to keep pace before the scoring well started going dry, and the Blue Jays continued the game’s fast pace but committed just two turnovers after halftime and attacked with their diverse weaponry.
Turner hit four 3-pointers on his way to a game-high 22 points, while wing Brandyn Moultrie added 12 points and two steals. Kinder and Griffin (8 points) combined for six blocks, and A.J. Cambric contributed six points and six rebounds off the bench.
Thompson added 10 points for Fort Osage, while Haugmo had nine points and 11 rebounds and Starr seven and seven, respectively.
“They’re a very good team,” Stirtz said of the Indians, “and I knew that would be tough. This is not an easy place to play. I feel lucky to get out of here with a win.”