JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge
BOWLING GREEN - Liberty-Benton fought two battles at Bowling Green State University's Anderson Arena last night.
The first was the Division III boys basketball regional final against St. Henry, a fight the Eagles won 59-46.
The second was an internal one. So what exactly did Liberty-Benton coach Steve Williman say at halftime to fire up his team?
"[Coach] said he pretty much hated the team that was out there in the first half because it wasn't our normal selves," L-B's Nathan Hyde said.
"I didn't dislike this team - I disliked the way we were playing," Williman corrected.
Of course, there were a lot of things to dislike in the first half for the Eagles, who fell behind 23-14 at the break. But Liberty-Benton shored up those areas and scored 45 points in the second half to remain unbeaten at 26-0 and advance to the Division III state semifinals.
The Eagles will face Cleveland Villa Angela/St. Joseph at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus at 10:45 a.m. Thursday.
Liberty-Benton, ranked No. 1 in the final state poll, was led by Hyde's 25 points. Brothers Aaron and Brandon Craft added 15 and 10, respectively.
St. Henry, which got 15 points from both Mitch Niekamp and Ryan Wehrkamp, finished the season 18-9.
L-B made only one of the 11 shots (9 percent) it took from the field in the first quarter and probably was lucky to trail just 11-5. In the second quarter the Eagles cut St. Henry's lead to 14-10, only to see the Redskins score on four of five possessions following a timeout to lead 23-14 at the break.
"I disliked our full-court pressure," Williman said. "In the half-court game we got beat one-on-one and closed out poorly. On offense we rushed shots and were out of sync. Then we got crushed on the boards.
"I think I touched on every fundamental in basketball. But the good thing was, after I listed all the negatives, the positive was we were just three possessions from behind tied again."
The Eagles came out strong in the third quarter, using a full-court press to ratchet up the pressure on St. Henry. The Redskins committed six turnovers while the Liberty-Benton offense opened the period with an 8-2 run, then finished with a 10-2 rush.
When T.J. Recker made a 3-point shot from behind a double screen just before the buzzer sounded, it gave L-B a 37-32 advantage.
"You have to give a lot of credit to their defense," St. Henry coach Joe Niekamp said. "Their ball pressure was good, and whether it was full-court or half-court they made it tough on us.
"We didn't get a lot of good looks, they made us play in a little bit of a hurry."
Adding fuel to Liberty-Benton's 23-9 run in the third quarter was an offense that connected on 9 of 14 shots (64 percent).
"As the game wore on, their quickness became more of a factor," Niekamp said. "In the second half they went to a spread offense and said, 'We're going to use our quickness and drive.' They were really effective with that. As the game wore on, they wore us down."
In the fourth quarter, St. Henry cut its deficit to 40-37 with 6:23 left, only to see Hyde drive to the basket, score and get fouled. After Hyde made the free throw, the Redskins came no closer than five points the rest of the way.
"That was us in the second half," Williman said. "That team in the second half was the team that I've loved all year."
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