The Leopards didn't give Newton Falls a chance this time around.
NEWTON FALLS -- When the Liberty and Newton Falls high boys basketball teams squared off last month on Liberty's home court, the Tigers took the Leopards into overtime before falling, 53-51.
In the Trumbull Athletic Conference rematch on Tuesday, the only tie Liberty allowed was at 2-2 with just under six minutes to play in the first quarter. From there the Leopards (15-4, 12-1) forced 12 Newton Falls turnovers and took a 27-8 lead at halftime en route to a 52-34 victory.
The Leopards handled the ball well on offense, turning the ball over only two times in the first half, but coach Burt Stellers said it was his team's shooting performance that made the outcome of this game much different from the first.
"Honestly, a few more shots just went in for us tonight," said Stellers. "Both teams didn't shoot really well at our place.
"Tonight, in the first half, I thought we did a good job of putting the ball in the hoop and defensively we stepped it up. To come in here and get a win, I'm pretty darn pleased right now. I think our kids did a wonderful job."
Kershaw leads way
Liberty junior Edward Kershaw led all scorers with 18 points, 11 of which came in the first half. Junior teammate John Humphrey added 10 and sophomore Mychal Doblanski chipped in nine points and five assists.
When the two teams met the first time, Liberty was undefeated in the TAC, which may have inspired the play of the Tigers (10-9, 7-6). The Tigers' latest performance disappointed coach Roy Sembach, but he was not passing out blame.
"I'll take full responsibility for our lack of effort tonight," said the coach. "I don't think I had them as prepared to play as we were last time. We certainly weren't as intense, and when you don't come out playing as hard as you can you have to attribute that to a lack of preparation. We were much more prepared last time.
"The first quarter I thought we played pretty hard but just didn't make anything," he continued. "We were only down 9-4 but in the second quarter I thought it was a big lack of effort on the defensive end. We weren't getting back on defense. So, not only were we not making shots, but we really let up on defense and that cost us any chance of coming back."
Tigers show some life
The fourth quarter was the only bright spot for the Tigers as they outscored the Leopards 18-9 and at one point cut a 27-point Liberty lead to 15. The Tigers' defense forced five turnovers, two missed shots and one blocked shot before the Leopards were able to score a field goal with 3:42 remaining in the game.
"Roy [Sembach] is a great coach and those kids have a lot of pride," said Stellers. "I knew they were going to make a run at us. Newton Falls kids aren't going to give up that's for sure. [Chad] Rankin, [Eric] Medallis and [Troy] Balint, those are three senior leaders that aren't going out on senior night without a fight. Give them a lot of credit."
Rankin led the Tigers with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
The win keeps Liberty in the hunt for the TAC title, which it can capture with a win over LaBrae on Friday.