The Olentangy Liberty High School boys basketball team made four of its first five shots of the fourth quarter to pull within three points for the first time since the first quarter in its Division I state semifinal against Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary.
But as the Irish have done so many times the last several years, they found enough answers to hold off a comeback bid and beat the Patriots 58-49 on March 22 at Ohio State.
St. Vincent-St. Mary, which was the Division II state runner-up in 2016 and the Division II state champion each of the past two seasons, improved to 24-3 and will face defending Division I champion Cincinnati Moeller in the state final at 8:30 p.m. March 23 at Ohio State.
Liberty, which was making its first state tournament appearance, finished 24-5.
“The guys came out in the second half and played their butts off to cut it to three,” Patriots coach Greg Nossaman said. “We missed a series of free throws down the stretch. We’re not trying to miss them, but if we make those and tie it up, it’s a different ballgame. They’re a very good basketball team, tough to guard. I’m very happy with the way we battled.”
The Patriots scored the game’s first five points, but the Irish led 15-9 after the first quarter.
After Ben Roderick scored with 28 seconds left in the opening period, Liberty didn’t score again until there was 1:32 left in the first half on another basket by Roderick that cut the Patriots’ deficit to 25-11.
St. Vincent-St. Mary led 28-16 at halftime.
Roderick, a senior forward who was a finalist for Ohio Mr. Basketball, scored 17 of his team-high 25 points in the second half. His 3-pointer with 6:15 remaining cut the Irish’s lead to 42-37, and he made the first of two foul shots with 4:12 left to pull the Patriots to within 45-42.
St. Vincent-St. Mary extended its lead to 51-44 with 2:01 remaining on a basket by Darius Cone. Liberty again closed to within three points on a pair of free throws by Joey Thatcher with 1:32 left before the Irish sealed the win.
“I’m just in shock that we’ll never play again because I’ve always played with these guys,” Roderick said.
Lunden McDay had 21 points on 9-for-14 shooting and Chris Painter scored 13 to lead the Irish.
Liberty made only 18 of 50 shots from the floor, including just five of 24 from 3-point range, and was 8-for-14 from the free-throw line.
“I thought we had a good game plan,” Nossaman said. “We wanted to keep the score as low as possible. I thought we did some good things, but we just didn’t make shots. We’re a 39 percent (3-point) shooting team. We went five of 24 (in 3-pointers) and if we go nine of 24, we win the game.”