COLUMBUS – Olentangy Liberty boys basketball coach Greg Nossaman and his staff didn’t waste time getting to work on their Division I state semifinal opponent Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary after wrapping up the program’s first regional title last Saturday afternoon.
The group – complete with Liberty girls basketball coach Sam Krafty – got in a car and made the 128-mile trip from Ohio Domincan’s Alumni Hall to Akron’s James A. Rhodes Arena to catch a glimpse of their next opponent.
Even with that preparation, there’s nothing like the real thing. SVSM took advantage of its size and quickness on the glass and on defense to take control with a 21-2 run in the first half, building a lead as big as 16.
The Patriots whittled it down as close as 3 before they ran out of gas and fell 58-49 in a Division I state semifinal Saturday night at Ohio State’s Jerome Schottenstein Center.
“I thought we had a good game plan,” Nossaman said. “We wanted to keep the score as low as possible because they can score some points. We had a good game plan – we worked on some zone this week. I thought we did some good things. We just didn’t make shots.”
Lunden McDay had 21 points and Chris Painter added 13 to lead the Irish (24-3).
Ben Roderick wrapped up his high school career with a game-high 25 points and nine rebounds to go with three assists to lead the Patriots (24-5).
Roderick is one of six seniors, with five of them in the Patriot starting lineup and the other playing significant minutes.
“Since fourth grade all the way up – we’ve been playing,” Roderick said. “I’m just in shock that I’ll never play again with these guys.”
Liberty shot 32 percent in the first half, including 2-for-12 from long range, and turned it over nine times while getting out-rebounded 22-13. Not exactly a recipe for success.
Still, Roderick scored on back-to-back possession and Joey Thatcher knocked down a 3-pointer in transition to pull Liberty within single digits. Thatcher had both of Liberty’s 3s in the half.
But McDay buried a 3-pointer from the left corner in the final seconds to give the Irish a 28-16 lead at the break.
“We got behind early and missed some shots in the first half,” Nossaman said. “I felt that we were a good-shooting team. We had some bad first halves throughout the year.”
Liberty got it as close as three on a couple of occasions in the fourth quarter, led by Roderick, who scored 17 points in the second half.
The Patriots got within a possession midway through the fourth when Roderick made the first of two free throws. He missed the second and Nick Nakasian pulled down the rebound and got fouled on the put-back.
But, he missed both free throws before Painter and Darius Cone scored on back-to-back possessions to push the lead back to seven.
Roderick and Thatcher each connected on a pair of free throws to cut it back to a three-point deficit with 1:32 left.
But, McDay followed his own miss with a put-back and Liberty never got closer.
Thatcher finished with 11 points on three 3-pointers; Mitch Kershner added seven points to go with seven rebounds, a pair of blocks and two steals; and Nakasian pulled down seven rebounds for Liberty.
But, the Patriots just didn’t shoot it well enough. They finished 5 of 24 from 3-point range and shot 36 percent from the field for the game.
Liberty, the final four’s only public school, hasn’t been here before and got a big send-off for its efforts, complete with an escort through Powell Friday afternoon on the way to the arena.
Nossaman has. His 2001 Willard team lost by four points in the state semifinal.
SVSM has been here plenty … 16 times since 1983, in fact, with eight state titles. The Irish didn’t miss a step after competitive balance moved them up to D-I before the season.
Malaki Branham and Cone scored 10 points apiece, Seth Wilson had a team-high eight rebounds and four assists, Branham led with four blocks and Cone had three steals to lead the Irish.
“They’re a very good basketball team that’s tough to guard on both ends of the floor,” Nossaman said. “I’m just happy with the way we battled down double digits and cut it to three.”
SVSM will play Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller for the state championship tonight at 8:30 p.m. at Value City Arena.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichnotwealthy or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.