Liberty boys get big overtime win over Newberg, 60-52
It's crunch time.
With just three games remaining and the Pacific Conference's third and final automatic playoff bid hanging in the balance, it was now or never for the Liberty boys basketball team — and they came through.
The Falcons (5-5, 11-11) came from five points down in the fourth quarter and defeated second place Newberg 60-52 in overtime Friday night, Feb. 21, at Liberty High School.
Junior Zane Bernhard made two free throws with two seconds remaining to tie the game in regulation, then helped put the Tigers away in overtime to secure what was ultimately a must-win game for Liberty in their push for the postseason.
"It's what we do and I feel like we're all pretty prepared for that moment," Bernhard said about his free throws. "I wasn't nervous at the time, but afterwards it kind of hit me how big that was."
With the game tied 46-46 and time ticking away, Newberg's Corban Muthiah drove the lane, scored and was fouled, setting up an opportunity to give his team a 3-point lead with just eight seconds on the clock. But Muthiah missed the free throw, Bernhard took the ball and without hesitating drove coast-to-coast, drawing a foul and getting to the charity stripe with a chance to tie the game.
"I'm always looking to pass first, but I saw the lane open and decided to go and take it," Bernhard said.
Liberty head coach Brian Martin was excited for the win, but was equally excited for his players, and specifically Bernhard who he said deserved a little love.
"That was super fun," Martin said. "I went right in there, gave him a big hug and told him, 'those were some fantastic free throws.'"
Martin pointed to the kid first, but then talked about the preparation they do in practice every day to make that situation easier for whoever it may be when they're faced with a similar challenge.
"We've shot almost 6,500 free throws in practice over the course of the year and we keep a record," Martin said. "So when it comes down to a situation like that, I tell them that we've shot 6,500 of these things as a team so that we can do just what he did. I couldn't be more proud of him."
The game started slow for both teams, and Newberg in particular thanks in large part to a handful of early turnovers.
"I thought our kids played terrific defense and they followed the game plan," the Liberty coach said. "We had a very specific plan defensively, having to do with applying pressure and trapping their ball screens, and they started with a couple turnovers, so I was really proud of the boys for that."
Liberty built a 16-15 lead after a quarter thanks in part to Tyler Rockwell and Bodgan Chobu, who combined for 10 early points. Things slowed down a bit in the second, with neither team establishing much in the way of offense en route to a 24-23 Falcons lead at the half.
Newberg (7-3, 13-9) took back the lead when Spencer Lanier scored to start the third quarter, then built as much as a four point lead with help from Muthiah who scored four straight midway through the quarter to put the visitors up 35-31.
Jaxson Lake pulled Liberty within two, 37-35, to end the third, then tied things up with a quick basket to start the fourth. The Tigers answered however, getting a 3-pointer from Jake Gaunt, a lay-in from Zach Macris, and baskets from Lanier and Muthiah to take a 46-41 lead with 3:12 left in the fourth. But like a heavyweight fight, the Falcons hit back with scores from Chobu and Rockwell, then when Lake made one of two free throws with 17 seconds left, the game was tied 46-46, setting up regulation's final sequence.
From there it was all Liberty.
Bernhard made one of two free throws to open the overtime, then Newberg took a 50-49 lead when Macris scored on the ensuing possession. But the Falcons answered with two Rockwell free throws, a bucket from Lake, and when Joey Abelsen knocked down a clutch 3-pointer with 35 seconds left, Liberty led 56-52 and for all intents and purposes, the game was on ice.
"I'm happy with how the guys supported each other," Martin said. "One of the things we've been stressing over the last week is being great teammates. The kids were really positive towards each other, gave each other good energy, and I think that helps you stay composed."
With the win, Liberty moved into a tie for fourth place with Forest Grove in the Pacific Conference, a half game behind third place Century. They need to win out to have a shot at third place and that final automatic playoff berth, but without this win tonight, all of that would've been moot.
"We've got to win-out, but this was the first one," Martin said. "We felt we should've won our first game with them (Newberg), so we talked about that and said, 'Hey, this is one we want to get back.' So we took step one, now we'll worry about step two."
And Bernhard agreed.
"We're hyped," he said about his team. "This was something we needed if we want to get to the playoffs, so it's a big win for us and now it's on to the next one."
Liberty scorers included: Rockwell 14, Chobu 12, Bernhard 9, Lake 7, Abelsen 5, Aidan Reitzug 5, Xanden Unciano 4, Cole Smith 4.
Newberg scorers included: Gaunt 15, Muthiah 14, Vaibhav Brooks 6, Macris 6, Tyler Brunhaver 4, Lanier 4, Solomon Byles 3.
The Falcons will next host McMinnville at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 25, then will wrap the regular season with a game against Forest Grove Friday, Feb. 28, both at Liberty High School.
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