Truman girls basketball coach Steve Cassity knows why Liberty brings out the best in his Patriots. It’s simple, really.
"There’s a rivalry there," Cassity said. "There’s a lot of emotion in this game."
A lot of defense, too, especially by the Patriots. That’s how Truman took the undefeated and No. 1-ranked team in Class 5 to overtime before falling 46-39 in a Suburban Large Seven home game.
Truman (14-9, 5-5 Large Seven) also put the clamps on Liberty (22-0, 10-0) the first time they met Jan. 13 at Liberty. That time the Blue Jays pulled away in the second half in a 41-26 win. This time Truman wouldn’t let them pull away.
Liberty, which never led by more than eight points, struggled against a variety of defenses designed to slow down point guard Olivia Nelson and forward Jillian Fleming. Nelson, who averages 15.3 points a game, managed only eight Monday. Fleming, who averages 14 points, did get 20 even while frequently double and triple-teamed.
"We switched up defenses a lot tonight," Cassity said. "We played good enough defense to win the game. If you pinned our loss on something it’s probably free throws, missed layups and some missed offensive opportunities."
Truman shot 9 of 18 from the line, and the Patriots were also a chilly 13 of 46 from the field. But they were still down only 21-15 at halftime and 27-24 after the third quarter. Liberty was held two Fleming 3-pointers in the third quarter after Truman switched to a full-court press.
"Truman had a great game plan," Liberty coach Joe Price said. "They threw some junk defense we hadn’t seen yet. We had to adjust on the fly."
Liberty’s Mary Mason opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer, and Truman responded with a 9-0 run for a 33-30 lead, its first since the first quarter. Freshman guard Taliyah Scott matched Mason’s three and went 4 of 4 from the line for seven of her team-high 13 points.
After a three from Nelson and free throw by Fleming put Liberty up 37-35 with 53 seconds left in regulation, Scott drove the lane for a basket and drew a foul with 38 seconds left. Scott couldn’t convert the and-one, and Liberty missed two shots in the final seconds.
"We wanted to get to the rim, try to finish, draw the foul," Truman senior guard Deon Monroe said. "Just playing hard no matter what. If we’re down we’re still going to play hard to the end."
Liberty opened overtime with a 3-pointer and took control with a 7-0 run. Truman went 1 of 6 from the field and missed a free throw.
Monroe finished with 12 points and Urya’ Williams added 10 in Truman’s last home game of the season. Monroe, whose 1,472 career points ranks fourth all-time at Truman, was presented with the game ball used when she scored her 1,000th point.
That, and almost knocking off Class 5’s top team made it a memorable night for the Patriots even as they lost their fifth straight game.
"We were on a bit of a losing streak here but I’m not discouraged," Cassity said. "I think we’re a good team and I think we’re dangerous going into districts."