Sophomore Ben Roderick scored all 10 of his fourth-quarter points in the final 7 minutes to help the Olentangy Liberty boys basketball team hold off rival Olentangy Orange’s comeback effort.
Roderick’s 25 points led Liberty to a 60-50 victory Friday night at Orange, helping the Patriots move into a second-place tie in the OCC-Buckeye Division.
“We push each other (in practice) – we hold each other accountable,” Roderick said. “We really bonded as a team … we have really good team chemistry, which helps us on and off the court.”
The Patriots (11-5, 4-2) remain two games behind first-place Westerville South in league play, but are now tied with Westerville North for second place after North’s loss to Westerville Central.
“I just tell the kids, ‘Just play each game and play hard and have fun’ … just keep it real simple,” Liberty coach Greg Nossaman said. “They’re such a great group – they play for each other.”
Nick Nakasian had 11 points and four rebounds and Dan McFarland added eight points and six rebounds for Liberty.
Zack Stablein drove the lane and hit on a scoop shot to cut Orange’s deficit to 40-39 with 7 minutes left in the fourth.
Roderick responded with a driving score of his own to push the lead to three and then Nakasian found Dan McFarland for a dunk to push it to five.
“The important thing is they never got the lead,” Nossaman said. “Players make plays … and in late-game situations, you need a player or players to say, ‘Give me the ball … I’m going to score,’ and that’s what good players do.”
Stablein dribbled around a screen at the top of the key and knocked in a three to cut it to 44-42 with 5:47 left.
“Zack can be a microwave – he can heat up quick,” Orange coach Anthony Calo said. “It’s just a matter of him staying positive and us trusting each other. He can be a big piece for us. He’s just gotta stay positive.”
But, Liberty answered with back-to-back baskets by Nakasian and Roderick.
The Patriots proved why free-throw shooting is so important. They went 12-for-14 at the line in the final period to salt the game away, led by a 6-for-6 effort by Roderick, who finished 12 of 13 for the game.
“We shoot pressure free throws every day in practice and it helps me get into the mindset for game time,” Roderick said. “It just comes naturally when it’s in the game.”
Orange had to overcome a sloppy start. Liberty had five steals in the first six defensive possessions to open 9-0.
The Pioneers (7-8, 1-5) opened 11-2 in the second half to cut a 32-24 halftime deficit to one with 2:42 left in the third.
“I told the kids that even though we lost, I’m really proud of them,” Calo said. “Yeah, it’s disappointing, but that’s a good thing because if they weren’t disappointed, they wouldn’t care. The thing I was most proud of is that we were unified … the coaches and players were unified.”
Jalen Bethel had a strong performance and led the Pioneers with 15 points and six rebounds. Stablein finished with 11 points on the strength of three treys and Matt McCollum added eight points for Orange.
“(Bethel) is playing better … starting to get some confidence,” Calo said. “We got a lot of faith in Jay … we believe in him. He’s starting to be more consistent with his motor.”
Both teams are off until Feb. 3. Orange visits Westerville Central and Liberty hosts Westerville South. Both are league games scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.