Ultimately, Liberty got what it wanted Thursday in the opening round of its own C.W. Stessman Invitational at Cokely Field House.
The Blue Jays survived 77-53 against a pesky Summit Christian squad.
With the win, Liberty, 11-2, advanced to the semifinals against Springfield Kickapoo, but it was far from easy.
The Jays, who are ranked 10th in The Star’s big-class poll, actually trailed 35-34 more than a minute into the third quarter after a layup by Eagles junior Donovan Kim.
It was still a three-point game – 47-44 – late in the period after consecutive baskets by Summit Christian senior Henry Stratton, but Liberty would seize control with an 11-0 run.
Junior Brandon Moultrie splashed a 3-pointer to ignite the spurt, which also included consecutive three-point plays by senior Kwaku Duah.
“We got some better shots in the second half, particularly in the third quarter, and hit some perimeter shots, which was key,” Jays coach Roger Stirtz said.
At that point, Summit Christian, 10-5, which used a two-man bench the majority of the game, simply wore down and never again pulled closer than 10 points.
“My guys always play hard tonight and played together,” Eagles coach Jake Kates said. “We gave them a little scare for three quarters before we ran out of steam, but I’m proud of them.”
The Jays threatened to pull away in the first half when senior Eric Greely’s dunk energized the crowd and sparked a tie-breaking 6-0 run, but Eagles senior Taurin Hughes, who scored a game-high 20, staunched the bleeding.
He finished the first half with a flurry of 3-pointers, including one at the buzzer to draw Summit Christian within 34-31, but Liberty had too much firepower led by Greely, who scored a team-high 14.
“He always brings the energy to each and every game, but he was more effective scoring around the basket (tonight),” Stirtz said.
Three other Jays – juniors Kellan Turner (13) and Reece Frizzell (11) and Duah (10) – also finished in double figures.
Long-time Liberty volunteer manager Jack Smith was remembered before Liberty’s victory in the nightcap.
“It was hard, because Jack’s always been there for us and always been around,” Greely said. “He’s a big part of Liberty. My two years here, I’ve seen him here cheering us on every single day. We love him and we’re going to miss him.”
The third-year Eagles, ranked No. 7 in The Star’s big-class poll, lost in overtime 61-52 against St. Joe Central despite 15 from senior Zach Starr.
Meanwhile, coach Jim Super’s sixth-ranked Hawks, who won the last two Stessman championships, got nipped 59-57 by Center.
Yellowjackets junior Quincey Butler led the way with 16 in the upset.
Senior Jameel Henson chipped in 15 points, while senior Kyle Smith led Olathe East with 17.
Springfield Kickapoo powered past Raytown 60-40 in the other opening-round contest despite a game-high 15 points from sophomore Jailen Gill.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to <a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a>. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.