Liberty County notched welcomed back an injured starter and picked up its second win in a row by edging Ware County 61-58 at home Friday night.
"We are playing a lot better right now and we showed a lot more intensity against Ware this time. Tonight was Tiara Howard’s first game back since her injury in December and she really set the tempo for us. Thursday was her first practice with us and she really challenged everyone to play better and faster," Liberty County coach Carolyn Kelly said.
Not that everything went according to script.
"We were not ready for how physical and aggressive Ware would be. Sometimes we don’t respond well to physical teams," Kelly said.
Yet the Lady Panthers controlled the game throughout the first half and took a 34-25 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The third quarter was a different story. Ware came out firing and scored the first five points of the period to close the gap. But both teams were plagued with ball handling miscues and Liberty’s poor shot selection kept the game close.
In addition, Ware’s aggressive defense halted Liberty’s perimeter offense, which forced the Panthers to beat the Lady Gators off the dribble and use backdoor cuts.
Liberty clung to a 43-40 lead at the start of the fourth quarter. The Lady Gators kept the game close through the quarter and took a 56-55 lead off a 3-point shot in the final minutes.
Enter Howard, who hadn’t played in more than a month. As Ware was in bounding the ball at half court, she intercepted the pass and sprinted down the court making a lay up to put the Lady Panthers ahead 57-55 with 40 seconds left. Precious Williams added a pair of free throws and a layup in the final seconds to ensure the win.
Bryonna Graham led the Lady Panthers in the scoring department with 17 points. Williams had 10 points. Howard finished with nine points.
"I was really proud of how my two freshman, La’Shai Richardson and Bryonna Graham, played especially with the speed and aggressiveness of the game," Kelly said.
Liberty is now 10-9 overall and 5-4 in region play. They will host Glynn Academy for their final game of the year Tuesday night.
Liberty top scorers:Bryonna Graham 17, Precious Williams 10, Tiara Howard 9, Charlee Coursey 7 La’ Shai Richardson 6, Courtney Rhodes 6, Jasmina Smith 4, Catherine Scaggs 4