Liberty's Boyer leads Falcons over Benson 78-70
After Thursday night's loss to Westview, the Liberty Falcon boys basketball team anxiously awaited news about whether or not they'd qualified for this year's postseason. Ultimately they did, and thanks to an unrivaled shooting performance and a Herculean effort from senior guard Nathanael Boyer — they made the most of it.
"Boyer was amazing," said Liberty head coach Brian Martin. "It has to be one of the best performances by a Liberty basketball player ever."
How great was it?
The senior scored 40 points, grabbed five rebounds and hit six times from behind the arc, leading his team to a 78-70 play-in game win over a good Benson team Feb. 24 at Benson High School.
Despite Boyer's effort, the Falcons and Techmen were neck-and-neck for most of the contest before an 11-0 fourth quarter run gave Liberty the necessary cushion to hold-off a late Benson charge and send the Hillsboro school to their first state playoffs since jumping to the 6A classification a season ago.
"I'm so excited for these kids," said Martin. "To be a 6A school and get into a play-in game, then win a play-in game and get into the playoffs is what we wanted to be. It's a great story for this team, but also sets a tone for Liberty teams going forward."
Benson pressured the Falcons throughout, trying to push the tempo and force Liberty into mistakes. But the Falcons for the most part purported themselves well against the press, limiting turnovers and maximizing opportunities in the halfcourt.
"Throughout the game we had good spurts, but we had some struggles and turned it over on occasion too," said Boyer. "The key was not wasting your dribble, catching the ball, looking to the middle then kicking it out."
The Techmen took an early 16-8 lead on the backs of their pressure and looked for a moment to be too much to handle for the sixth place team from the Metro League. But after a Taylor Martin free throw, followed by two Boyer threes and a third trey from Martin to end the first quarter, Liberty had tied it 18-18 and Benson knew they were in for a battle.
"At times we don't handle that pressure real well, but after we got going tonight we did well," Boyer added. "We got down early, but then fought back and went from there."
Benson's Sean Calhoon scored five straight to start the second, but Liberty's Sam Schoch answered with a three of his own, then junior Jarett Boyce hit back-to-back treys to give the Falcons a four point lead before Liberty ultimately took a 34-30 lead to halftime following a Tyler Rockwell corner three as time expired in the second quarter. Rockwell's three-pointer was the ninth of the half for the Falcons and a welcome sight for Coach Martin who's been waiting for a performance like this from his squad.
"I told the guys we're due to have a breakout and have a great shooting game, and it came tonight," said the coach. "We talk about being patient and aggressive. We're not out there trying to stall, we're going to wait until we get a really good shot and we'll take those threes if they're there."
Jaylen Russell cut the lead to one with a quick three to start the third period, but Boyer and Liberty again answered with consecutive threes to make it 40-33. But there was no quit in the Techmen who scored 10 of the next 13 points to tie the game again 43-43. Boyer however scored the next eight Falcon points, helping the visitors to a 53-50 edge heading to the game's final stanza, where Benson's Emanuel Steward made things interesting.
The junior wing scored eight quick points, including two high-arching threes, and spearheaded the Techmen's pressure defense to tie the game 58-58, swinging the momentum, awakening the crowd and putting some concern in the faces of the players, coaches and Liberty fans in attendance.
"We knew that's how they were going to play, and knew they'd get after it," said Martin. "We prepared for it, but had too many turnovers and gave them easy buckets at times, which allowed them to get back in the game."
Unfazed however, Boyer gave the Falcons the lead back with two free throws, then a Boyce three spearheaded an 11-0 run which gave Liberty a 69-58 lead and allowed them to ice the remainder of the game from the free throw line.
"The kids worked hard," Martin said. "We turned it over at times, but when we got where we needed to be, we executed and got baskets when we needed them most. That was big for us in that fourth quarter."
Boyer was quick to deflect too much credit after the game, but was proud of his team and excited about their and his performance. The senior was also appreciative of the postseason opportunity and equally anxious for whatever and whoever comes next.
"It was really fun to play in a new gym and against a new team who hadn't seen us before," said Boyer. "I'm excited to be moving on and ready to see who we play next."
And how did Coach Martin feel about his team and their performance?
"I couldn't be prouder," he said. "I'm not sure who were going to play, but hey, we'll go anywhere and give it our best. This is a good step for our basketball program and getting to the state playoffs is something we'll continue to build on."
In addition to Boyer, Boyce scored 14 points for the Falcons, and Schoch added six points and eight rebounds.
Steward finished with 21 points to lead the Techmen.
Liberty is next scheduled to play No. 1-ranked Jefferson Feb. 28 at Jefferson High School.