Sophomore Nick Nakasian’s free throw with 1:50 left stood up and the Olentangy Liberty boys basketball team picked up its first tournament victory since 2013 with a 37-36 victory over New Albany Friday night in Powell.
Sophomore Ben Roderick scored eight of his 13 points in the second half to lead the 15th-seeded Patriots, who hadn’t played since Feb. 17 because of a bye, in their second-round victory.
“I thought we played pretty well defensively,” Liberty coach Greg Nossaman said. “Our goal was to hold them to 45. Typically, in the tournament, the scores are a lot lower — people value possessions a lot more.”
New Albany had three cracks at taking the lead down the stretch and was aided by three missed free throws by Liberty, including the front end of two one-and-ones.
Roderick tipped and stole a Tommy McDonald pass on the first possession and Jalin Jackson and Remi Martin missed go-ahead shots, the latter of which came with less than a second left.
“They figured out our zone a little bit, so I went man at the end,” Nossaman said. “I probably should have went a little earlier.”
The Patriots (15-8), who reached 15 wins for the first time since they won 23 games in the 2012-13 season, held New Albany to just two baskets for the first 12 minutes of the game.
“It was our first tournament game, so we knew it was going to be more defensive,” Roderick said. “We came out knowing that they wanted to shoot the ball — they don’t really want to drive. So, we really keyed in on their shooters.”
McDonald gave the 21st-seeded Eagles a 2-0 lead with 6:37 left in the first quarter, but they missed their last seven shots in the period. A Roderick three-pointer led Liberty to a 7-2 lead at the end of one.
The Patriots pushed the lead to as many as 11 with an 8-0 run early in the second quarter. Trey Stablein led the way with a basket and a pair of free throws.
But Jackson scored seven straight points for the Eagles and assisted on two other baskets, including a deep three-pointer by Martin at the buzzer, to cut the Liberty lead to 21-14 at the break.
“We knew they were going to come out and punch us in the mouth,” Roderick said. “We just had to ride the storm and just keep playing our game.”
After a pair of Nakasian free throws pushed the lead back to nine, Martin knocked down a pair of threes during a 7-0 run to cut it to 23-21 midway through the third.
Martin turned a steal into a layup and a Liberty lead into a 27-27 tie on the same play with 2:29 remaining in the third and Brennan Wood’s free throw briefly gave the Eagles a one-point lead a little over a minute later.
“I thought (New Albany) played really good half-court man defense,” Nossaman said.
Liberty responded with a Roderick short jumper off an inbound pass by Mitchell Kershner on the next possession and the Patriots led 30-28 at the end of three.
Wood knocked down a jumper from the right baseline to tie it 32-32 early in the fourth, but Nakasian found Roderick on the next possession to give Liberty the lead back.
Roderick fed Llwyatt Hofer for a layup to push it back to four, but New Albany responded with baskets by Jordan Nash and Tommy McDonald to tie it again.
Martin had 12 points to lead the Eagles (11-13) and Wood added 11. Jackson finished with seven points and four assists.
Liberty advances to play second-seeded Newark in the district semifinal Wednesday at 7 p.m. at a site to be announced. The Wildcats won at Liberty 71-67 Jan. 24.
“We’ll have to play a heck of a lot better next Wednesday night,” Nossaman said. “It’ll be a long night if we play like this.”
Grove City 78, Olentangy 67
Scoring wasn’t a problem — the Braves had three players finish in double figures — but Olentangy couldn’t slow down the duo of Zack Sammeth and Isaiah Dewberry as host Grove City notched a win in the second round of the Division I Central District tournament Friday night.
Sammeth poured in a career-high 27 points while Dewberry chipped in 20 for the Greyhounds, who led pretty much from the start.
Grove City (12-11) owned a 22-19 lead after the first quarter before outscoring Olentangy (13-11) 18-14 in the second and 19-17 in the third and fourth to smooth out the scoring summary.
Jason Sieve led the Braves with 21 points while Sean Marks added 17 and Will Elmore finished with 11.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.