POWELL – Alex Okuley’s propensity for coming through in big situations was on full display in the Olentangy Liberty boys basketball team’s 55-54 win over Olentangy Orange in front of a packed house Friday night in Powell.
The senior guard came through in clutch situations over and over and over again, mostly at the free throw line, to help the Patriots take full control over the OCC-Central Division race at 5-0.
Okuley connected on 11 of 13 free throws, including going 9-for-10 in the fourth quarter to keep the Patriots on top. He finished with 13 points, five rebounds, four assists and a pair of blocks along with a clutch free throw in the fourth quarter.
“I love to clutch, but I’m never a player to force anything,” Okuley said. “I’ve never been like, ‘I want to get this many shots up.’ Whatever comes natural, comes natural and tonight, the free throw line came natural. I did my job.”
James Hummell went for a game-high 22 points and added five rebounds, two assists and two steals for the Patriots (12-2, 5-0).
His basket with 4 minutes, 32 seconds remaining gave Liberty the lead for good.
Mikey McCollum hit a 3-pointer with 45 seconds left in the first quarter to give the Pioneers (11-2, 3-2) a 14-12 lead and they led for much of the next two quarters.
Elias Lewis had 20 points and McCollum added 19 points and six rebounds to lead Orange.
“We didn’t do what we wanted to do,” Orange coach Anthony Calo said. “There were two teams that play well and prepared hard and we were forced into some bad situations. (Liberty is) very well-coached. They really move the ball well and they play together well.”
Earlier in the night, Gigi Bower caught fire with 11 points on the strength of three 3-pointers and four steals in the third quarter to help the Liberty girls basketball team open it up on its way to a 53-21 win over Orange.
Bower finished with 18 points, six steals and three rebounds and Claire Mikola added nine points, eight rebounds, six assists and four steals to lead the Patriots (13-1, 5-1), who were up 25-13 at the half.
“We keep finding different ways to get the job done,” Liberty coach Tom Waterwash said. “We didn’t play that well in the first half. They had that zone that kind of threw us off. (Bower) can create for herself and she can create for others. She can create stuff on defense and she can rebound the ball. She’s a well-rounded player.”
Maddie Yanka had six points, Emma Delmore had six rebounds and Mairin O’Brien had five steals to lead the Pioneers (5-11, 1-5).
“The zone definitely helped slow the game down,” Orange coach Brian Cromwell said. “But what (Liberty is) really good at is speeding the game up in the full court. I think that’s where the game got out of hand.”
The night served as a fundraiser for the Natalie Gray Foundation for Pediatric Brain Tumors. Gray, a freshman at Liberty, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in 2021.
Contact Michael Rich at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @mrichnotwealthy.