The Liberty County High School boys’ basketball team started the season 11-0, but then the Panthers sputtered to a 1-4 record against Region 2A-AAAA teams.
Tuesday night in Richmond Hill, the Panthers used aggressive defense to pull out a 47-35 win over the Wildcats and even up the regular-season series.
“We started playing better defense against Tattnall on Saturday and we have just been able to keep it up,” Liberty County coach Willie Graham said.
Liberty took an early lead with a 3-pointer to open the game. The Panthers were methodical offensively, moving the ball around the perimeter to look for an opening inside. Patient offense allowed Liberty to consistently take time off the clock. Defensively, Liberty played a hard, fast and physically-aggressive man defense. The pressure forced Richmond Hill to begin its offense well beyond the arc.
“I absolutely have to hand it to coach Graham and the Panthers because they played really strong defense. It took us out of our game. We were having to run our offense almost from the half-court line so we couldn’t get anything going inside,” Richmond Hill head coach William Altman said.
The Panthers did show some transition when guard Derrick Brooks got a dunk off a fast break to fire up the Liberty crowd. Liberty continued to control the tempo of the game but Richmond Hill made a run in the final five minutes of the game.
Wildcat shooting guard Spencer Buck nailed a 3-pointer at the three-minute mark to cut the lead to 40-30. But even after a Panther turnover, Liberty was able to slow the ball down and continue to score consistently down the stretch.
“I was pleased we kept fighting hard in the third and fourth quarter. We got to within eight points, but Liberty was able to keep scoring,” Altman said.
Richmond Hill travels to Wayne tonight, and then has five home games.
“Tonight, we were off. Some of our scorers tonight didn’t score as much. I also want to thank our great student section that was really into the game tonight,” Altman said.
Richmond Hill fell to 3-3 in the region and 13-6 overall.
As the Panthers work their way back through Region 2A-AAAA, they go to 2-4 in the region and 16-4 for the year.
“We are going back through the region now, trying to keep trucking so we will be able to hold home court during the playoffs,” Graham said.
In the girls’ game, Richmond Hill’s Aliyah Johnson and Keeara Johnson each finished with a game-high 22 points to defeat the Lady Panthers, 56-41.
Liberty showed some spark with a pair of 3-pointers in the first quarter but Richmond Hill’s transition game took over.
The Lady Panthers were playing without leading scorer Diamone Johnson because of injury. Defensively, Richmond Hill took complete advantage of 22 Liberty turnovers.
“The one thing that we did a little better tonight is our man-to-man defense didn’t look too bad. We have to have players to step up without Diamone in the lineup. We played hard. We just didn’t take good shots,” Liberty Lady Panthers head coach Carolyn Kelly said.
Liberty was 13-for-30 from the free-throw line.
The Panthers fall to to 4-4 in region 4A-AAAA and 8-7 overall.
Richmond Hill notched its 17th win of the season and its 14th in a row since losing to power Statesboro early in the season.
In Region 2A-AAAA, the Lady Wildcats are 6-0.
“Defensively, I was really proud of the turnovers that we produced off the press, and that led to some easy transition baskets. We also were able to get some sophomores off the bench, and they gave great effort,” Richmond Hill coach Elizabeth Bennett said.
RHHS 56 , Liberty 41 (girls)
Liberty: Tiara Howard 11, Bryonna Graham 8, Brianna Reece 8, Jasmina Smith 4, Courtney Rhodes 4, Emonie Fisher 3, LaShai Richardson 3
Liberty 47 , RHHS 35 (boys)
Liberty: Michael Farrior 13, Sayvon Wilson 12, Melvin King 6, Derrick Brooks 5, Aaron Scott 4, Conner Bailey 4, Raekwon McMillian 2, Joshua Powers 1