By brandon judeh
Spirits were high at Liberty High on Tuesday during Senior Night.
The Panthers put a damper on the good times as they spoiled the Leopards’ final regular season game, 80-50.
East (15-6) controlled the tempo early and often, as its offense resembled the late Jerry Buss’s Showtime Lakers.
Despite their high flying offense and a fantastic third quarter, East head coach Dennis Simmons says he felt his team played sloppy.
“We will take this win because it’s a W,” said Simmons. “But we were sloppy out there. It was an ugly game for us, especially this late in the season, but we will take the win.”
If the Panthers’ performance was ugly, what does beautiful look like?
Their offense, which consists of plenty mid-range jumpers, was on fire from 15 feet and beyond, shooting 60.7 percent from the field.
“We shot well today, but with one game remaining [Ursuline] we need to work on our execution,” said Simmons. “We know what we do well, but I can’t stress enough how we need to be consistent and execute.”
Ironically on Senior Night, it was an underclassman, who happened to be the smallest player on the court, that stole the show.
East junior Marquis Cotton played like a giant, as he drained jumper after jumper, scoring a game-high 22 points.
“I have come a long way since my freshman year; I know that I need to stay mentally tough and keep my head in the game and be a floor general, especially in big games,” said Cotton.
Simmons said that out of his entire team, Cotton has matured the most during this 22-game season.
“He’s coming along at the right time,” Simmons said. “He has become the floor general, the leader, the coach on the floor. He has matured so much, more than anyone, and to think that he is coming back next year is great.”
Simmons also distributed seven assists and caused several Leopard turnovers.
After a close first half, which saw Liberty (9-12) narrow the Panther lead to eight going into the locker room, the Leopards fell flat in the third quarter.
“East is a great team, very physical and fast,” said Liberty coach Dan Bubon. “While it’s disheartening to lose by 30 points, it was a good physical test for us.
“Heading into the tournament, we need to take everything we learned from our 21-game schedule and apply it, including all of the close losses we had.”
The Panthers outscored Liberty 23-8 in the third quarter and 43-21 in the half. They put an exclamation point on the game in the fourth when Deontay Scott found Terrell McClain for a monster ally-oop dunk.
Scott and McClain each scored 17 points for the Panthers while Taylor Johnson chipped in with 14.
For the Leopards, Cameron Clark and Asim Pleas Jr. led the way with 12 and 11 points respectively.