Crestview beats Liberty in first AAC Blue win
NEW WATERFORD — The Crestview Rebels made history Friday night at home when they knocked off the previously unbeaten Liberty Leopards 68-60. It was the Rebels’ first All-American Conference, Blue Tier victory after suffering a dismal 0-14 inaugural season in 2018-19.
The win was also the first of the year for the Rebels as they improved to 1-3 and 1-0 in the AAC Blue. The Leopards fell to 1-2, 0-1.
“Our kids have worked so hard, and I think there was a bit of a monkey on their back,” Crestview coach Rick Gates said. “They didn’t have much success last year, and the league is an extremely good league from top to bottom. This is just a huge program-builder and a confidence-builder for some young kids.”
It was exciting for the players.
“It’s incredible,” Rebels junior center Drake Golden said. “To start like this is only going to lead to more things.”
It was a different story for Liberty.
“We didn’t come out with the high intensity and energy that I had expected,” Leopards coach Levon Lamb said. “We came out real flat and lackadaisical, and you can see that it hurt us tonight.”
The Rebels led by 12 points midway through the second quarter before the Leopards slowly cut the deficit to just 3 at 41-38 in the third period. The Rebels stretched their advantage late in the third, holding a 51-44 lead as Connor Hughes hit a putback bucket before the fourth quarter.
That proved to be the difference as the Rebels attacked the boards and were able to get a number of second-chance points. Golden led them with eight rebounds.
“We really focused on how athletic they were going to be going to the boards,” Gates said. “Credit our kids for really buying in and they really looked for them and checked them out. We pursued the ball hard. I’m proud of our rebounding effort.”
The Leopards would once again cut the Rebels lead down to three following a basket by Jameer Weaver and a 3 from James Davis to make it 54-51 early in the final quarter. Golden would score a basket off a rebound, followed a minute later by a 3 by Anthony Cusick to make it 61-52 with 3:35 remaining in the game.
“We worked so hard on shooting in the off-season, and I think we’re finally starting to come alive with some outside shooting,” Gates said. “They’re having fun just trying to get better.”
It was a team effort.
“It takes five guys on the floor,” Golden added. “We needed to get everybody involved. It was a team win.”
The Rebels milked the clock and connected on their free throws late in the game to pull out the victory. Golden and Miller connected on 3 of 4 free throws in the final minutes.
“We need to get better as a whole, both individually and as a team,” Lamb said. “We did not rebound as well as I thought we could on the defensive end. We let a lot of dribble penetration get by us and they were able to finish tonight. You have to give credit to them, they hit a lot of big shots.”
Next up for the Leopards is a game with the John F. Kennedy Eagles Tuesday in Warren. The Rebels return to the court again Saturday night when they travel to Lisbon.