By DAN POMPILI
The Liberty Leopards looked poised to win their ninth game of the year in fine fashion on Friday at home against All-American Conference rival Girard.
But Indians sophomore guard Craig Randall had other plans.
Randall broke loose for a 23-point second half including a wide-angle three-point Hail-Mary through triple coverage that banked in to win the game as time expired.
“We were just trying to find a good look and really all that was open was the slip, you just can’t call a play for that,” said Girard head coach Craig Hannon. “He said he didn’t hear Randall call the bank, either. “I know they stay open late on Fridays, but ...”
With 6.1 seconds remaining, Liberty led 63-62, having retaken the lead after a late Girard push. Randall, who had stung the Leopards for three 3s already in the half and two that quarter, took the inbounds pass from the top of the key and moved quickly through double coverage toward his right, to the bench. As the clock wound down, he tried to pass, tried to fake, then just shot the ball.
His aim was true off the glass as the clock struck 0:00 and the Girard side of the gym erupted in deafening fashion, charging the court as Liberty fans stood awestruck and silent.
“What a defensive breakdown to let him shoot a 35-foot prayer that banks in,” said Leopards coach Dan Bubon. “We started to get into trouble when we started letting him get to the hoop. If he’s only shooting those long shots, we win the game.”
Liberty (8-8, 4-4 AAC National ) began the game in control and kept it that way. Even as a third-quarter run by Girard (11-5, 6-2)m began, the Leopards seemed to hit shots when they needed to and Girard couldn’t quite close the gap within eight points.
Liberty’s lead was so comfortable that when Randall and sophomore Dylan O’Hara led a 16-5 run for Girard in the third quarter, it was calmly backed off by Liberty’s own 8-2 push. Girard (7-8) answered back 12-2. At one point the Indians reached a five-point lead. But an unsportsmanlike conduct technical foul on Jim Standohar put Asim Pleas at the line, where he made one of two shots.
Pleas came back 20 seconds later with a three pointer to bring Liberty within one. A Girard turnover put the ball in the hands of Darrien Underwood who put the Leopards up by one with the victory all but sealed. They only had to keep Randall away from the hoop.
“I was just thinking score,” Randall said afterward. “It means a lot to sweep the series, I don’t think we swept them in a long time, but just to sweep the series and beat them like this and beat them here, it means a lot.”