The best way to quiet a rowdy student section is to make plays, pay it no mind, and if all else fails, bring a student section of your own.
Liberty basketball did all that and then some Friday night. Tyler Downs’ go-ahead shot with 20 seconds left helped the Lions quiet everyone for good and escape an intense South Carroll environment with a 62-58 victory. In the process, Liberty clinched the Carroll County championship.
“I want the ball in my hands in the fourth quarter,” Downs said. “I have the confidence because I know I can make the shots when my team needs me to.”
The South Carrol crowd — decked out in gold shirts for the annual “Gold rush” game — was left speechless early thanks to some big plays from Liberty forward Cole Jernigan.
The junior got the small section of Liberty students loud and on their feet in the first quarter after diving for a loose ball just seconds into the game. The ball found its way to Downs, who drilled the first of his many 3-pointers on the night as the Lions jumped out to an early lead.
“I’m just glad the team can bring me in when they need me and honestly, I’m just I’m just happy to be out there,” Jernigan said.
Jernigan’s ability to be a spark plug has been a reoccurring theme for the Lions this season.
“There’s no one that has a greater energy level,” coach Brian Tombs said. “He’s not complaining, not whining, he’s just going out there and giving his all.
The home crowd wasn’t silenced for long as South Carroll’s leading scorer, Owen Scott, kept the Cavaliers in the game. Scott, who shared the game high with Jernigan with 23 points, continued to show why he might be the toughest person to guard in all of Carroll County. The Cavaliers found themselves down double-digits, but with Scott on fire, the lead was cut to just two at the half.
“I feel like when I get the ball at the top of the key, I can move any direction I want,“ Scott said.
The third quarter turned into the Owen Scott show. Scott either got to the basket and made tough layups or served as a decoy for South Carroll’s offense.
With the Lions so focused on Scott, Pieter Borghans took advantage of the open shots and driving lanes as the Cavaliers went on a game-changing run. Coach Jim Carnes was impressed with his team’s ability to play off Scott.
“We’ve come a long way from the beginning of the year,” he said. “We’re playing a lot better.”
South Carroll’s big quarter put Liberty on the ropes, and with Downs held in check, the crowd was alive and well heading into the fourth with the Cavaliers up two.
Both teams hit their strides offensively in the final quarter. Scott and Borghans worked the outside for the Cavaliers, hitting shots and pushing the pace. For the Lions, it was the inside game as Downs and Jernigan fearlessly drove to the basket, absorbing contact and converting at the free-throw line when fouled. After another 3-pointer by Scott, Liberty was down to one last play.
And of course, Tombs drew it up for his go-to guy: Tyler Downs.
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“I want the ball in his hands at the end of the game,” he said. “He can shoot it, he can get to the basket and he passes well. You want your seniors to finish a game.”
Downs finished with 18 points including the late go-ahead shot. Michael Tombs sealed the deal at the free-throw line after the Cavs couldn’t convert at the other end.
Downs loves winning close games because he knows what those types of wins do for his team’s confidence going into the playoffs.
“The confidence is growing more and more,” he said. “I get more excited for who we play because now we know what we could do against anybody.”
Liska paces Liberty girls in decisive win
Opening the Friday night doubleheader, Jenna Liska’s 17 points and 10 rebounds led the Lions to a 43-30 victory over South Carroll. Liska, who also added five assists, showed why she can be a triple-double threat when her team is clicking offensively.
“I think I make my teammates better,” Liska said. “I make them stick more. I make them move more. I think I just helped them understand the game and it helps us win games.”
The win improved the Lions to 7-8 on the season. Harley McKee’s 12 points led the Cavaliers.