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Liberty tops Niles in OT

LIBERTY — On Friday night, the communities of Niles and Liberty wrecognized Liberty freshmen Zak Stevens who has battled kidney disease most of his life and is currently undergoing dialysis. The teams came together to wear green Zak Strong shirts.

That camaraderie came together in an overtime thriller that featured 15 lead changes and a double-digit comeback. In the end, the Leopards held off Niles, 64-59.

“I think it was one of those nights where it was going to come down to who wanted it the most or stepped up first was going to get it,” Liberty coach Levon Lamb said. “Fortunately, the basketball gods were with us tonight.”

Liberty (2-0) was led by Manuel DuBose’s 15 points and Jameer Weaver’s 11 points.

“My kids play smart,” Niles coach Doug Foster said. “They play hard. We just couldn’t buy a bucket there in the last six minutes of regulation and OT. We’re up 53-52 and we run our semi where we got two layups in a row and we miss them both.

“Then they call a travel on us on the next. We could have gone up by six because we stopped them the next two times. The game should have been over with. Instead, the kid hits an and-one and it’s a tied game.”

Niles (1-1) was led by Joe Wolfe and Chase Sudzina. They both scored 17 for the Red Dragons.

The teams battled back-and-forth in the opening quarter before the Leopards finished off the half with a 12-4 run to make to 22-14.

The Leopards pushed the lead out to as much as 12 at one point, 28-16, thanks in large part to their pressing. The Dragons closed the half on their own run to trail by three at the half, 35-32.

“Coach Foster is a great coach,” Lamb said. “I’ve coached with him. I’ve been around him for the last three or four years. I knew he was going to make the adjustments to get his team back in the game.

“I think, too, we got lackadaisical on our end when they saw that big lead and started to relax. We had to shift our focus back to that intensity and high level we were playing at.”

In the third quarter, the teams went back-and-forth with six lead changes and the lead getting no bigger than three by the Red Dragons.

Heading into the final quarter with the Leopards up 50-40, Niles was able to build out another three-point lead with less than two minutes in regulation but couldn’t get the layup when necessary as they shot just 2-of-7 in the fourth quarter after shooting 55 percent in the second and third quarters.

“I think it was one of those possession games,” Foster said. “There were two or three possessions when we were up where we didn’t get the bunnies when we had them. We had great looks. We just didn’t finish them.”

That lack of efficiency forced the game into overtime with the teams tied at 55.

The Leopards didn’t make a single field goal in overtime but got to the line 16 times, outscoring Niles 9-4 to squeak by the Red Dragons.

“I’m just proud of the guys, how they stepped up and knocked down those free throws when it counted,” Lamb said.

They went to the lines 29 in the game times to just seven for the Red Dragons.

“Coach Lamb does a nice job with these kids,” Foster said. “It’s his first year over here. They’re big and talented. They have a good basketball team. I’m not taking anything away from them. Twenty-two foul shots to seven on the road, that’s tough to overcome. Up till the last minute, we were right there.”

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