Newark’s BJ Duling scored 14 of his game-high 27 points in a 24-14 first quarter and Olentangy Liberty couldn’t recover, falling 78-60 in a Division I boys basketball district semifinal Wednesday night in Pickerington.
JT Schumate backed Duling with a double-double, 14 points and 11 rebounds, and Justin Carter added 14 points and five assists to lead the second-seeded Wildcats, who also beat Liberty 71-67 back on Jan. 24.
“We knew we had to play a really good game,” Patriots coach Greg Nossaman said. “(Newark is) a good basketball team … it’s going to take somebody playing four quarters to beat them.”
Duling scored all but five of his points in the paint. His three-pointer pushed Newark’s lead to 15-7 midway through the first. Duling capped the period with a thunderous dunk off a Hunter Dennison pass.
“Duling’s just playing at a different level right now,” Nossaman said.
Newark (24-1) led by as many as 15 in the first half, but an Ethan Novy three-pointer late in the second frame helped the 15th-seeded Patriots chip the deficit to 12 before trailing 39-25 at the break.
“We wanted to cut it to single digits heading to the fourth, but they missed their first four shots and got offensive rebounds and scored,” Nossaman said. “It’s not a lack of effort on our part – it’s more athletic ability on their part.”
Mitchell Kershner scored the first seven points for Liberty (15-9) and finished with a team-high 17 points.
Ben Roderick scored 13 of his 16 points in the second half to go with five rebounds and Novy added 11 points and five assists.
Kershner (three), Roderick (three), Novy (three) and Mitchell Okuley (two) combined for 11 three-pointers to help keep Liberty close, but it wasn’t enough to upset the Wildcats.
“We shot it well – we kept it close,” Nossaman said. “It was important for us to keep it close until the half.”
The Patriots lose five seniors – Novy, Trey Stablein, Jack Barnett, Mike Bass and Brett Buzash. Barnett was the team’s starting point guard, but he missed the last 11 games because of illness.
“I’m proud of the way our guys battled, losing our point guard halfway through the year,” Nossaman said. “Our seniors didn’t give up all year and they battled.”
Liberty saw great strides made by its sophomore class led by Roderick, Kershner and Nick Naskasian.
“We basically had a starter and a half back from a team that won 10 games last year,” Nossaman said. “The schedule that we played was even better than what we played last year. If someone would have said you’ll win 15 games, I would have taken that right away.”
Newark advances to the district final against ninth-seeded Pickerington North Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.