The first time Liberty played Brunswick a month ago, the Panthers lost by only a bucket. Thursday’s game, during Liberty’s opener at Statesboro High School’s annual Christmas tournament, was decidedly different.
Brunswick took the game, 77-64.
Panther freshman guard Richard LeCounte led the Panthers with 5 treys, three coming in the first quarter and a game-high 19 points.
“We just were sluggish against Brunswick,” Liberty County Panthers Head Basketball Coach Willie Graham said. “We were off the week before we got out for the break and then add in Christmas break, a lot of players haven’t touched a basketball for over a week. This tournament is one of things that helps us stay active before the second half of the season starts.”
Friday night’s game against Battery Creek, S.C., was an improvement from the previous night, but still resulted in a 56-52 loss.
Liberty built a 18-6 lead in the first quarter. The Panthers continued to control the game until the final three minutes of the first half when Battery Creek started to cut into the Panthers, 25-16 lead.
The Dolphins battled Liberty on the offensive boards, giving them second and third shot attempts. In the final minute, the Panthers brought the ball down and LeCounte buried a three-pointer from the left corner giving Liberty some breathing room, 28-22. Battery Creek scored in the final seconds to trail Liberty, 28-24 at the half.
Though the Panthers had controlled most of the first half, Liberty had a dogfight on their hands in the second.
Both teams exchanged baskets to open the second half and the Dolphins tied the game at 35-35 with 3:18 left in the third quarter. The lead changed several times going into the final quarter.
Battery Creek created more turnovers by speeding up the pace of play. The Dolphins ball movement also sliced Liberty’s zone defense, allowing them to shoot from the outside and penetrate into the lane.
Liberty senior forward Freddie McSwain banged under the basket for a score and Davion Mitchell grabbed a deflected pass and had a break-away lay-up, which tied the game at 46. The Panthers regained the lead when Josh Powers surged into the lane advancing Liberty, 48-46.
Battery Creek tied the game again with 1:53 left, hitting the back end of a pair of technical foul free throws.
The Dolphins broke the tie on a pair of free throws with 16.4 seconds and added another set after a Liberty foul with 7 seconds left.
“We mishandled some balls tonight. We didn’t stop the ball the way we should have and they hit us hard on the boards and we gave them too many second and third opportunities to shoot when they had the ball,” Graham said. “We need more time in practice to get more repetitions,. The time off has definitely not helped us, but we will get better.”
The coach said his team did make good decisions with the basketball at times.
“We tried to force some shots at times but overall we did not take a lot of bad shots,” he said. “We took what they gave us so I was pleased with the fact that we didn’t take a lot of bad shots tonight.”
The Gentlemen’s Classic forces teams to be ready to play three days in a row without rest and gives them a look at different teams they might not see during the regular season. Also the three day tournament is giving McSwain much needed court time since returning to the team after having surgery on his meniscus during Thanksgiving Break.
“This tournament is helping us get back in basketball condition and also getting us ready for the second half of the season,” Graham said.
The Panthers faced Osborne High School from Marietta, Saturday night in the final game of the Gentlemen’s Classic, results will be in the Wednesday Courier.
Gentlemen’s Classic at Statesboro High School
Brunswick 77, Liberty 64 (Thursday)
Brunswick 19 16 19 23-77
Liberty 13 14 15 22-64
Liberty — Freddie McSwain 12, Conner Bailey 1, JiShaun Harris 9, Davion Mitchell 2, Richard LeCounte 19 , Josh Powers 10, Jerrell Taylor 2, Jeramiah Bacon 9.
Battery Creek 56, Liberty 52 (Friday)
BC 6 18 13 19-56
Liberty 18 10 12 12-52
Liberty — Freddie McSwain 12, Conner Bailey 9, JiShaun Harris 7, Davion Mitchell 7, Richard LeCounte 7, Josh Powers 6, Jerrell Taylor 2, Jeramiah Bacon 2.