Liberty plods their way to win over Forest Grove, 45-33
It wasn't always pretty, but the Liberty boys basketball team made the most of what they had en route to a 45-33 win over Forest Grove Tuesday night, June 1, at Liberty High School.
Led by the long-distance marksmanship of senior Zane Bernhard and the mid-range sharpshooting of fellow senior Shawn Algee, the Falcons started hot, then extinguished a rallying Vikings squad in the second half on their way to their fifth win in seven tries this season.
Liberty head coach Brian Martin said that despite the irregularities of the year due to COVID-19 — Exhibit A being that high schools are playing basketball in June — he's having a lot of fun coaching a core group that's embraced their final run.
"I couldn't be prouder of these guys," Martin said. "It's such a fun team to be around. They like each other, trust each other and have been playing together for a long time. They know each other's roles and know what to do. It's a lot of fun."
Bernhard wasted little time putting the Falcons on top early, scoring 12 of his team's first 13 points, all on shots from behind the arc.
Martin spoke to the time and effort Bernhard put into his game over the past year. He said that work is evident throughout the early portions of what will be a very short season.
"Zane put in so much work, and he's become a new player," the coach said after the June 1 game. "He's confident, trusts his teammates, and he can shoot, as you saw tonight. But he's best when he's involving other guys, and he made some beautiful passes tonight."
Algee took over the second quarter, scoring six of his team's 11 points. The senior contributes primarily from a bench role, but Martin was quick to assert that while a substitute, Algee's talent and contribution is more than worthy of a starting position.
"He's good enough to start, but he's a kid we know can come in and score and provide a spark," Martin said. "Shawn's been playing with this group since youth ball, and the kids trust him."
Forest Grove was led by senior Braden Hudgins, who finished with 15 points and four rebounds. He pulled the Vikings to within 27-22 with consecutive three-pointers just before halftime and scored five straight midway through the second half to again cut the Liberty lead to single-digits, but six straight Algee points thwarted that comeback.
Forest Grove head coach Greg Evers was again left scratching his head regarding his team's performance.
"It was brutal," Evers said. "It's been a common theme during this short season. We've yet to figure out how to put the ball in the basket."
The Vikings coach said that with a lack of perimeter shooting prowess, they work to get the ball to the paint offensively. But without the reps necessary to create the symmetry necessary to succeed on the offensive end of the court, it's been difficult for his inexperienced team to get points.
"I don't know if it's COVID not allowing us to get the ball in our hands during the offseason or just a lack of practice time," Evers said, "but it's probably a combination of both."
Evers did say he was happy with his team's defensive effort, which for the most part kept them in the game despite their offensive woes. But he reiterated that even that has been a process in the midst of the odd year.
"Our kids just need practice time," Evers said. "We're not sure how to switch, and communicating is tough and made more difficult with these masks on."
And it's that lack of familiarity that adds value to Liberty's senior synergy — something Martin doesn't take for granted.
"The leadership is really starting to come out in these guys," Martin said. "With (Joey) Abelson, Bernhard, (Connor) Kangas and Xanden (Unciano), they're all starting to lead and they listen to each other. When you get guys that are able to coach each other on the floor, that's when things start to come together."
Kangas was another key contributor for the Falcons in the win over Forest Grove. At 6-foot-5, the big-bodied senior for the most part kept the Vikings out of the paint and mopped up the boards, collecting eight rebounds in somewhat limited action.
"He did a great job tonight," Martin said of Kangas. "He's a smart player and plays great defense. And what you didn't see tonight was that he's got great hands and is a good shooter."
In all, Martin said he and his team is happy with the win, but more than anything, they are just happy to be playing.
"If you would've asked me three months ago if we'd be playing, I'm not sure we would be," Martin said. "So the fact that this really good group of seniors gets a chance to play and enjoy themselves — that makes me happy."
Liberty scorers included: Algee 16, Bernhard 15, Abelson 5, Smith 4, Kangas 3, Unciano 2.
Forest Grove scorers included: Hudgins 15, Ayden Case 5, Steltenpohl 4, Cannon 3, Calixtro 3, Leto 2, Irvine 1.
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