The Olentangy Liberty boys basketball team had top-seeded Pickerington Central on the ropes for much of the Division I district final Saturday night at Ohio Dominican University, but came up just short, 54-49.
It was a dream start for the Patriots as senior sharpshooter Cooper Davis scored Liberty’s first eight points to allow them to open up an 8-3 lead over the Tigers. Sophomore guard Juwan Turner, who finished with a team-best 17 points, got the Tiger offense going with five early points of his own, finishing with 11 in the quarter.
Junior Alex “Sonny” Styles, who reclassified to the 2022 football class to enroll early at Ohio State University, picked up two fouls early, but after several lead changes, Pickerington Central led 16-14 through one.
Davis, who had a game-high 19 points, hit a layup off an inbounds pass to start the second quarter scoring. Liberty had the first six points of the second to go up 20-16, then Turner responded with his third three of the contest. From that point on, it was a back-and-forth contest.
Senior Nick Boysko knocked in a three-pointer from the top of the key to give Liberty a 27-24 lead with 2:30 left in the half. Central forward Devin Royal finally got on the board with a dunk in the closing minute that tied things at 27, which was the score going into the locker room.
“You have to pick your poison with a really athletic team like that,” Olentangy Liberty coach Greg Nossaman said. “Offensively we weren’t too efficient. We turned it over too many times down the stretch.”
Although Liberty did have more offensive turnovers than it usually does, it had Pickerington Central scrambling to stay in the game as it opened up its biggest lead in the third quarter. A corner three by senior Parker Hinkle helped jumpstart the Patriot offense, and Liberty eventually took a 39-31 lead.
Davis hit a layup to balloon Liberty’s edge to 44-35, but the Tigers showed why they are the top dogs in the fourth quarter. They had the first six points of the quarter.
Senior guard Trey Majidzadeh found junior Jackson Mikola inside to give Liberty a 48-47 advantage with a little over two minutes in the contest. Junior Alex Okuley hit a free throw to make it 49-47 with 1:45 remaining.
On the ensuing possession, Turner missed a mid-range jumper that would have tied it, but Okuley travel gave the Tigers the ball down two at midcourt with 1:07 left. Styles then hit Turner for a three with 40 seconds left to give the Tigers the 50-49 lead.
With 13.6 seconds left, Davis was called for a charge — a devastating blow for Liberty’s chances. A layup by Styles on the next possession extended the lead to 52-49.
Pickerington Central smartly opted to foul Liberty while up three and Majidzadeh missed the first and only free throw.
Liberty ends its season with a 14-11 record, but that record tells a different story.
Things looked bleak for the Patriots after dropping their first five games, then they rattled off impressive wins against St. Charles, Newark, Dublin Coffman and Hilliard Bradley. They beat crosstown rival Olentangy Orange twice in three tries. They accomplished so much in the last five months. They were a completely different team from the beginning of the year –– and the run to the district finals proved it.