With a night off from City League play tonight, the up-and-down Libbey Cowboys have proven one thing to date: They know how to win when it counts.
The Cowboys have passed the midway point of league play atop the standings as the CL's only remaining unbeaten team at 5-0. On the flip side, Libbey is winless in its four non-league contests.
And just as the Cowboys have balanced their schedule with league victories and non-league defeats, their unselfish play throughout has produced balance on the court.
Four Libbey players are averaging between 14.1 and 11.2 points per game, led by lone senior starter Ronnell Isom, a 6-2 guard who is also grabbing 7.1 rebounds a contest.
Juniors Ernie Reed (11.9 points, 7.0 rebounds), David Osby (11.4 points, 9.3 rebounds) and Jerome Pierce (11.2 points) are the other major contributors in the Cowboys' share-the-wealth system.
“[Balance] comes from playing together our whole lives,” Isom said. “We know each other and where we want the ball, and we share the ball. There's not an `I' in t-e-a-m.
“A team can't just look at one or two players defending us. They have to make a defense to play all of us.”
Unselfish play has enabled Libbey to topple CL foes Woodward, St. Francis, Waite, preseason favorite St. John's and Rogers. In no game was the group spirit more evident than in the 64-54 win over defending CL champion St. John's at Libbey on Dec. 20.
The win over St. John's, the league's measuring stick for more than a decade, gave Libbey a 4-3 record against the Titans dating back to the Cowboys' 25-1 season of 1999-2000. The wins also came on four different courts - at Waite, SeaGate Centre, Savage Hall and Libbey.
The latest one saw the Cowboys take a 35-14 lead after a near-perfect first half, then hold off a Titan rally after the break. Isom asserted his leadership by scoring 24 points. Osby added 16, Pierce 8 and Reed 7.
“If one person is scoring and we feel we have a mismatch there, we'll keep on giving him the ball,” said Pierce, a 5-8 point guard. “If they switch up, we just keep working the ball until somebody has an open shot. It's my job to make them run the plays and not get out of control.”
Most games have featured a more equitable scoring breakdown.
“It just depends on the game and which player steps up,” said coach Leroy Bates. “Most of the time, when the players see who's hot, they try to get them the ball, and it always reciprocates later on.”
Away from the City League, things have not gone so well.
Libbey opened the season with a 56-55 loss on a last-second basket at Sandusky. The Cowboys were blown out 84-60 at top-ranked, defending Division I state champion Columbus Brookhaven, dropped a 76-67 decision at Cleveland Glenville, and last Saturday dropped a 55-54 home game against perennially-tough Lima Senior.
“We're in between,” Reed said. “We can't buy a game against an out-of-town team, but in the City League we're doing good.”
Bates sees the losses as possibly just as important as the victories as far as the team's long-term success.
“Each game is a learning experience,” Bates said, “and they're starting to understand where they get off track. That will help us down the road.
“They also know there's a consequence for losing. After a loss we do extra running in practice so they'll see the importance of staying focused. They hate to do any extra running. There are lessons to be learned in every game just like there are in the game of life. If you can learn the lesson then maybe you won't repeat the mistake.”
“That's a good motivation because he runs us to death,” said Osby, a 6-3 post player. “He let's us know that we can't go out and do the same thing.”
Bates admits next year may be the year for this junior-dominated group, but he isn't dismissing chances at a league title and a strong tournament run this season. He is high on his players' potential.
“Ronnell is probably our most complete player, inside and outside,” Bates said. “He's got a stroke on his shot, he's quick to the basket, has quick feet on defense and he can put pressure on you offensively and defensively. If we consider anybody on this team a leader it would be Ronnell.
“David Osby is the most consistent player we've got. He never changes. He's tough down low, physically, and he's mentally tough. He rebounds well and defends well. He doesn't say much. He just goes out and plays.
“Pete [Pierce] is our captain on the floor. He's very vocal. He's an outstanding outside shooter and he knows how to distribute the ball to people at the most opportune time.”
Bates calls Reed the “hidden element,” and feels great things may lie ahead for the 6-2 wing.
“Ernie's mood on the court never changes and you never know what he's thinking,” Bates said. “He just comes to play. He can stroke it from outside, he's a great penetrator and before all this is through, he may be the one on top of the mountain.”
Osby, Pierce and Reed are basically juniors in more ways than one as their fathers, respectively, are David Osby, a Libbey standout in the mid 1970s, Jerome Pierce, a Scott player in the late 70s, and Ernest Reed, a former Libbey football player.
The Cowboys are a strong bet to end their non-league woes Monday against visiting Ryken (Md.) St. Mary in the Martin Luther King Classic at Libbey. Scott and Central hammered the Maryland team 106-40 and 95-29, respectively, earlier this season. Libbey's next CL test is next Friday against winless Start.