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Westminster boys basketball gets past Liberty with big second half

Pinpoint sharpshooting from senior power forward Connor Levinson and a suffocating fourth-quarter defense triggered a 56-47 victory for host Westminster over Liberty on Wednesday night in Carroll County boys basketball action.

The win came one night after the Owls (4-3) lost 65-44 against the Lions in Eldersburg.

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Levinson made three 3-pointers in the second half and led the Owls with a team-high 12 points.

“We were running through our offense, setting it up and some of those shots I don’t normally take, but the energy from the bench and the energy from defense controlling our offense really helped us out,” said Levinson, a co-captain along with senior Erick Stranko (nine points, six rebounds).

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Liberty led 13-11 after the first quarter as Justin Sheetz (15 points) scored eight points, highlighted by two 3-pointers. The Lions maintained a 26-22 at halftime thanks to four more points from Sheetz and five from backcourt mate Shane Stewart (14 points).

Westminster stayed within striking distance courtesy of a pair of 3-pointers from Stranko and four second-quarter points off the bench from Colby Cotoia.

Westminster battled back in the third quarter and the momentum changed when Stranko made a steal with five seconds left. He intercepted a pass in near half-court and fed a driving Alan Joseph for a buzzer-beating left-handed layup that gave the Owls a 41-39 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Twenty seconds into the fourth quarter Levinson’s trey made it 44-39, but with 7:28 left Stewart bagged a 3-pointer to make it 44-42. That was the only field goal the Lions (3-2) would make the entire quarter, until an Elias Rimel 3-pointer with 29 seconds to play.

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“[Tuesday] night didn’t go so well for us, so we talked a lot about our energy level and playing as a team we didn’t feel like we did that last night, but they brought both the energy and the teamwork tonight and it ended up paying off for us in the end, that’s a good basketball team,” Westminster coach Steve Byrnes said.

Liberty's Sam Allen, left, gets in the face of Westminster's Patrick Haynes, who look to dish the ball off to a teammate, during a boys basketball at Westminster High School on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021.
Liberty's Sam Allen, left, gets in the face of Westminster's Patrick Haynes, who look to dish the ball off to a teammate, during a boys basketball at Westminster High School on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. (Brian Krista/Carroll County Times)

The signature sequence during the fourth-quarter stand came from Stranko, who hounded the ball all over the court and guided Rimel into an offensive foul after a a charge was drawn by Cotoia.

“We talk about five guys on a string and we felt like last night we only had two or three guys playing together on defense, tonight they worked as a team and that can cause that kind of play at the end there,” Byrnes said.

The Owls also got solid play off the bench.

Leading by six, Cam Crilly came off the bench after Billy Hyatt-Otovic was injured and made two free throws. Jake Jenson replaced Crilly for defense and he had a steal and made two free throws with 20 seconds left to help salt away the victory.

“Our issue was ourselves, bottom line, we did not play the way we needed to play, I give them credit, they did what they needed to do, but we played selfish tonight and it showed and that’s why we lost,” Liberty coach Brian Tombs said. “Coming down one pass trying to score, we didn’t put any pressure on them defensively, we just didn’t show up and part of that is playing a team you beat by 20 the night before, we got complacent and they came hungry and they outplayed us and that’s why they won.”

Westminster's Alan Joseph gets in the face of Liberty's Jayden Adams, hoping to force a turnover during a boys basketball at Westminster High School on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021.
Westminster's Alan Joseph gets in the face of Liberty's Jayden Adams, hoping to force a turnover during a boys basketball at Westminster High School on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. (Brian Krista/Carroll County Times)

Levinson said he liked the way his squad turned the tide defensively.

“We played bad defense [Tuesday night and that’s one of the things we had a talk with the coach and we all agreed we got to pick up the energy on defense because we can control defense, we can’t control our shots,” he said.

Byrnes praised his veterans for the turnaround.

“We were talking at halftime that we needed our senior leadership and that’s what they brought tonight, they got the other people involved and that led our team,” he said.

Liberty (47): Justin Sheetz 15, Shane Stewart 14, Elias Rimel 6, Sam Allen 5, Jayden Adams 4, Cam Hodges 3.

Westminster (56): Connor Levinson 12, Erick Stranko 9, Billy Hyatt-Otovic 8, Patrick Haynes 6, Alan Joseph 6, Colby Cotoia 6, Cam Grilly 5, Jake Jenson 2, Mark Chatkin 2.

Halftime: Liberty, 26-22

JV result: Liberty, 59-43 (L-Sam Evans 19 points).

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