By Michael Rich
Drew Rosi scored 18 points and Jack Barnett went 10-for-10 at the free throw line down the stretch to lead the Olentangy Liberty boys basketball team past district-rival Olentangy 56-53 Saturday night in Lewis Center.
“It doesn’t matter what the record is, it’s going to be a great game,” Patriots coach Greg Nossaman said. “They’re great games (with) great crowds. I miss those crowds. That’s what high school basketball is all about. People are into it, yelling and screaming, and when it’s over, shake hands and life goes on.”
After Olentangy used a 13-4 run to take a five-point lead in the third quarter, Rosi came through with an old-fashioned three-point play and followed with a pair of free throws. Rosi also had seven boards and three steals in the game.
“(Rosi) is a big horse inside,” Nossaman said. “He’s not playing up to his potential yet. (He) gives us that inside look and he’s pretty strong. He’s getting there.”
Barnett connected on a three-pointer to give the Patriots a 36-35 lead at the end of three and they never trailed again.
Spencer Mitchell scored on back-to-back possessions to open the final frame and extend the Liberty lead to five at 41-36.
“(Olentangy) is the kind of team where they’re never out of it by the way they play,” Nossaman said. “And you’re never out of it by the way they play, so you just got to keep playing to the end.”
Derrick Wyche kept Olentangy close with six points in the frame and Seth O’Neal hit a three-pointer late to cut the deficit to three, but Barnett kept making free throws for the Patriots.
“Jack Barnett was huge (Saturday night),” Nossaman said. “(If) he misses those free throws that gives them an opportunity to score. It kept it a two-possession game those last couple of minutes, which was good.”
“It was a good, tough basketball game,” Olentangy coach Chris Kelly said. “They made their free throws and we had some opportunities to knock down some big shots and they rattled in and out. If they make their free throws and you make more mistakes than usual against a good team, it usually doesn’t end up going your way.
“As hard as it is to lose four games, all right down to the wire, we’re close to being 9-0. But, at the same time, you got to make the plays when the plays are there.”
Wyche finished with a team-high 15 points and eight rebounds for Olentangy. O’Neal was held to five points, but dished out a game-high five assists and had five boards.
“I think his body has been a little beat up and he’s still getting in great shape,” Kelly said. “Obviously, for the second half of the season, I have some high expectations for Derrick. I know he’s an outstanding player — rebounding, defense, blocking shots and also at the offensive end — he’s definitely a go-to guy.”
Liberty (7-6) opened the game hot from behind the arc, hitting three of its six three-pointers in the opening frame, including a pair of triples by Spencer Mitchell and another by Ben Roderick.
But it was Jason Sieve’s three at the horn that tied the score at 13-13 at the end of one. Sieve had five in the first and finished with 11 points.
“(Sieve) is a confident young man,” Kelly said. “At the start of the year, he just couldn’t find his rhythm in games. (The thing) that I love about him is that he always has confidence — he always thinks he’s going to make it. I knew it was just a matter of time before he broke out of a slump.”
The bigs dominated the second quarter for both teams. Rosi scored eight of Liberty’s 11 points in the period and Wyche scored all six of Olentangy’s points to keep it close, but the Patriots led 24-19 at the break.
“It was more about feeding the hot hand,” Rosi said. “I caught fire a little bit toward the middle of the game. At the end, it was Barnett with his free throws. It’s pretty much, who’s shooting the ball well will get the ball.”
Austin Luxedor scored seven points during a 13-4 run to open the third quarter to help Olentangy take a 33-28 lead.
“(Luxedor) is an offensive machine,” Kelly said. “He can make plays like that. He’s a great kid and a good scorer. He’s one of those guys that’s worked extremely hard throughout his career and he’s kept getting better and better. I’m proud of his effort (Saturday night).”
Brendon White pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds to go with five points and three assists for the Patriots.
Olentangy (5-4), which had a light schedule before the New Year, plays Hilliard Davidson in non-league action Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The game, originally scheduled for Dec. 1, was moved after both schools had deep football playoff runs.
“We’re only nine games, 5-4 — we have a great opportunity to still get a lot of wins the rest of the season — a lot of big wins,” Kelly said.
Liberty, which has won seven of nine after starting the season 0-4, is off until Friday night when it resumes OCC-Central Division play against Central Crossing at 7:30 p.m.
“We got on a little bit of roll here after a slow start,” Nossaman said. “I like where our kids are right now and we’re coming together a little bit at a time.”
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.