Senior Mitchell Kershner has proven to be a very valuable player for the Olentangy Liberty boys basketball team.
He knocked down the go-ahead 3-pointer with 2:50 left in the overtime to give the Patriots the lead for good – one of three he hit from beyond the arc.
Ben Roderick assisted on the go-ahead basket and followed with a pair of buckets underneath and Liberty knocked down enough free throws down the stretch to take a 66-58 decision in overtime in a Division I regional semifinal Friday night at Ohio Dominican University’s Alumni Hall.
Liberty will play in its first regional final round Saturday. The Patriots won a district title in 2012 before falling against Central in this round.
Roderick had game-highs with 29 points, 11 rebounds and five assists to lead the Patriots (23-4). Kershner added 15 points, five rebounds and a pair of blocks and Nick Nakasian also turned in a double-double with 11 points, 10 rebounds and tied Roderick with five assists.
“Ben was big, as he’s been all year,” Liberty coach Greg Nossaman said. “I don’t know that we played that great. We missed some free throws; we turned the ball over too many times and sometimes it led to an easy score and that’s what (Central) thrives on.”
Kershner’s value is no more evident than in wins and losses. The Patriots went 14-0 with him in the lineup.
“So far,” he said about the team’s record adding, “Trying to keep it that way.”
He missed the Patriots’ first game of the season – a 74-73 loss to Cincinnati Taft – with turf toe.
The toe became a bigger issue in the first Westerville North game when he tore a ligament. He was told at the time he would miss the remainder of the season.
“It was kind of a nagging (injury),” Kershner said. “It was just a couple games into the season – it just dislocated. It was kind of a freak injury. It sucked. Our seniors – we’ve been building something — and I wanted to play with them.”
But he went for a second opinion and got good news just before the Patriots’ game against Pickerington North Jan. 26.
“They put me on a plan to get back and after about a month I was able to get back on the floor,” Kershner said. “I’m just super-happy that I was able to get back for my senior year.”
Liberty built a 12-point lead on a Kershner 3-pointer with 6:48 remaining.
“He’s our defender, he’s our rebounder and he hit a couple of big 3s (tonight),” Nossaman said.
But the Tigers came storming back on the strength of some solid defense in the full-court … defense Javohn Garcia and Garner Wallace turned into offense.
Garcia scored the first six points of a 9-2 run to close out regulation and then found Jaidon Lipscomb for a 3-pointer to tie the game 56-56 with about 10 seconds left.
Henry Hinkle drove the lane, put up a runner and was fouled by Garcia, his fifth, with 0.8 seconds left.
Hinkle missed both free throws and the game went to overtime.
“Free throw guys aren’t trying to miss them,” Nossaman said. “He’s solid at the line and it’s a big, big stage right there. He’s our leading free-throw shooter … I’ll put him at the line again in that situation.”
Central turned it over on its first possession to set up Kershner’s go-ahead 3-pointer.
“To have the lead and then go to overtime – a lot of teams would melt down in situations like that,” Nossaman said. “We just said, ‘Hey, let’s play four more minutes. Let’s go.’ (Central) is a good basketball team and it really helped us when Garcia fouled out.”
“Ben gets so much attention on the inside … I’m just open in the corner,” Kershner said. “We work on shooting every day. I just stepped up and hit it.”
Garcia and Wallace had 20 points apiece to lead the Tigers (25-2).
Garcia added five rebounds, four assists and three steals, Wallace had seven rebounds and Coleton Landis tallied eight points and six boards to lead Central, which had a 13-game winning streak snapped.
Liberty advances to the regional final where it faces North Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. back at Alumni Hall in a rematch of an earlier game this season … a game won by the Patriots.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichnotwealthy or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.