LEWIS CENTER – Nik Brannon scored 11 of his 15 points in the second half, including a go-ahead layup on a breakaway with 2:16 left that gave the Olentangy Orange boys basketball team the lead for good Friday night in Lewis Center.
The Pioneers held rival Olentangy Liberty to just one free throw over the final 3 minutes, 14 seconds to secure a 51-47 victory, avenging a loss to the Patriots earlier in the season.
Orange coach Anthony Calo used a phrase, “sound with life” over the days leading up to the game.
“We want to be sound, we want to be in the right spots, but there’s a difference between being in the right spot and a guy blowing by you,” he said. “You gotta be in the right spot and make a play still. So, we were sound with life in the fourth quarter and we did a good job.”
Liberty’s Ben Roderick tied the game 46-46 with a steal and a score and rebounded a miss on Orange’s next possession.
Then, Orange’s Ryan Cutler rebounded a miss and fed Andre Irvin, who threw a half-court pass to Brannon for a layup to break the 46-all tie.
Nick Nakasian made one of two free throws, rebounding the miss. Brannon blocked a shot later in the possession, though, and Luke Ballinger rebounded misses on each of Liberty’s next two possessions.
Ballinger made five of six free throws in the fourth quarter, including three in the final 26 seconds to help the Pioneers put it out of reach.
It came down to two things for Liberty, according to coach Greg Nossaman.
“We missed two one-and-ones and were 8 of 15 at the line,” he said. “We’re a 75 percent free throw shooting team and we shot (53) percent at the line tonight. We hit one three. I thought defensively we played, but we gotta make baskets.”
Irvin had 10 points and five assists, Bryson Lane and Ballinger scored eight points apiece for Orange.
Cutler had eight rebounds, Ballinger added seven and Brannon five for the Pioneers (9-5, 4-2).
The win moves Orange into second place in the OCC-Buckeye, a game behind Liberty with four games remaining in league play. The Patriots won the first meeting between the two in Powell.
Orange went on an 8-0 run after Liberty scored the first two points of the game. Ballinger and Irvin each knocked down a 3 to highlight the rally.
But Roderick and Nakasian led an 11-3 run to give the Patriots the lead again.
The game largely remained a one- to two-possession game until the third quarter. Roderick scored all seven points to break a 29-29 tie, giving Liberty its largest lead.
“(Liberty is) a very good team and we knew they were going to make plays,” Calo said. “They have some playmakers and they’re well-coached … they’re going to make runs. But we’re capable of making runs, too.”
Brannon scored seven points in a 13-4 rally that bridged the final two quarters to help the Pioneers overcome a seven-point deficit – it’s largest of the game.
“He just didn’t have a good year (last year) for whatever reason,” Calo said. “But we knew it was there – we just kept telling him that. He kept working – he gets the credit for that. We knew he could do it and now he’s doing it in big spots.”
Roderick finished with 24 points and six rebounds and Nakasian added 11 points, eight rebounds and three assists to lead the Patriots (11-3, 5-1), who had a six-game winning streak snapped.
“(Orange) did what they needed to do to win the game,” Nossaman said. “We had some costly turnovers there and missed some layups. It’s very uncharacteristic of us and what we’ve been playing with. When we’re making shots – like anybody else – we’re pretty good. But one three and eight free throws is not good enough.”
Both teams return to action Tuesday night against non-league opponents. Orange travels to Dublin Coffman and Liberty visits Hilliard Davidson. Both games are scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m.