Century and Liberty tip off Friday night in the first of two regular-season meetings between the crosstown rivals this year, a matchup that brings the southern end of Carroll County together to witness these teams fight for a win.
The Lions are 10-0 entering their clash with the Knights. Century is 8-2, and both teams boast undefeated Carroll County Athletic League records. The programs have brought back a handle of players who garnered varsity experience last season and that talent has only bolstered for both sides.
“We have a good group of guys that are all about the team, which I think is, first and foremost, the most important,” Lions coach Brian Tombs said. “With that mentality, good things have a tendency to happen. They’re not worried about whether they’re getting theirs. They’re willing to share the ball to get the best shot possible.
“We typically have five guys on the floor that can put the ball in the hole. All our guys pass the ball pretty well, we have a pretty talented group so far this year and things have turned out well for us.”
Tristan Kent, the reigning Times Player of the Year, entered Thursday leading the county in points per game (19.8), rebounds per game (11.1), and field-goal percentage (57.6). The Lions (3-0 in the CCAL) also boast Jack Merchak, Peyton Scheufele, and Connor Stewart.
Merchak led the team in assists (43, 4.8 per game) as of Thursday, and Stewart’s 25 steals was a team high.
Senior forwards Matt Huber (13.5 ppg) and Jared Lamb (13.4) lead the Knights (5-0 CCAL) in scoring. Lamb holds the team high in rebounds (6.7 percentage) and field-goal percentage (50.5).
“The biggest factor to where we are right now and the experience they received on the court as juniors last year gives us a little bit more confidence,” Century coach George Wunder said. “They’re definitely more focused — we’ve got five guys we put on the court and off the bench that can do multiple things with the basketball offensively, so it makes us tough to guard on that end of the floor.”
One of the Knights’ biggest advantages this season has been their 3-point shooting accuracy. Wunder said not only has it been a large part of the team’s improvement over the years, it’s opened up other opportunities for players to succeed on the court.
Four Knights are shooting 40 percent or better from 3-point range this year — Justin Wunder leads the county at 50 percent (21-for-42), Lamb at 44.4 percent (16-for-36), Jake Diehl at 41.7 percent (15-for-36), and Huber at 40 percent (22-for-55).
Tombs said his Lions specialize on pushing the ball, attacking and putting pressure on the opposing defense. His players have the ability to read and react on the fly to what each team’s defense feeds them and, in turn, an opponent’s mishaps become positive scoring opportunities for themselves.
Century and Liberty have combined for four of the last five CCAL championships. The Knights won two straight in 2014 and 2015, followed by Winters Mill in 2016. Century captured another title in 2017 and advanced to the Class 2A state championship that year.
The Lions most recently accomplished the feat last season and advanced to the 2A West Section 1 final as well.
Liberty defeated Century three times last winter — twice in the regular season, and once in the regional playoffs.
Tombs and Wunder both praised the community’s support that surrounds this game each time the teams meet. Century and Liberty sit about three miles apart in Eldersburg, and most of the athletes at these two schools grew up playing sports together.
“Whatever sport it is, from an early age they’re competing with each other, yet against each other at the same time,” Tombs said. “There’s that sense of pride on both ends especially down in this area with a great rivalry. The community in of itself gets into it as well anytime they’re playing.
“Century has been a pretty big, dominant program since Wunder has taken over and it’s one we mark on our calendar. It’s a measuring stick of how good you actually are or if you have a lot of work left to do because they’re so good.”