The Liberty County High School boys basketball team and their fans exhaled collectively Friday after the Panthers managed a 90-82 victory at home, eliminating Shaw from the state playoffs. The game was a close one.
The tempo was slow in the first few minutes and the teams went shot for shot. Leading by 2, the Panthers boys suddenly ignited. Jordan McRae hit Tucory Rhodes in the middle for the drop. McRae then sank of few of his own and Rion Brown dropped in a few to extend the lead by 9 at the close of the first.
The pace quickened in the second quarter and McRae hit Brown twice in one minute for alley-oops. The Liberty boys extended their lead by 14.
Shaw fought back, but the Panthers were up 41-32.
Shaw did have an ace in the hole with senior Chris Denson. He drove the ball down the Panthers’ throat and often positioned himself for the outside passes and trey shots. Denson single-handedly scored 38 of Shaw’s points.
"We got to play better defense, "McRae said after the game. "I mean, we gave up 38 points to one person."
In the second half, Denson’s buckets and what LCHS Coach Willie Graham called "uncharacteristic turnovers" by his team allowed the Shaw Raiders to come within 2 points on several occasions. The Panthers battled back with Rhodes hitting the boards, McRae dunking a basket and Brown hitting a trey to extend the lead.
The Panthers managed to hold on for a win in round one.
"We have to go back to the way we’ve been playing," Graham said about fixing the second half errors. "Our point guard made more turnovers than he probably made all season."
"Everybody stepped up," Brown said. "But for the next game we need to do better in our decision making. We had a lot of lazy passes, on my part as well as everybody else. If we can just cut that down we’ll be great."
Four Panthers hit double digits. Brown had 21 points, Rhodes chipped in 20, McRae scored 19 and Greg Richardson had 16.
The victory means the boys will host round two Tuesday against Dougherty High School. The game is tentatively set for 6 p.m.
In other basketball news, the Long County Blue Tide also advanced to round two, defeating Jefferson County High School 90-86. They will play either Henry County or Fitzgerald.
Liberty 20 41 65-90
Shaw 11 32 60-82