By ANDREW WILLIAMS
MCCOMB — Snowballs were on the mind of Liberty-Benton coach Steve Williman and McComb coach Aaron Roth after their teams met in a Blanchard Valley Conference clash Friday night.
It had nothing to do with the white powdery stuff, though, but with the Eagles’ scorching hot start from the field and the Panthers’ inability to do much about it.
Liberty-Benton blitzed McComb 24-4 in the first quarter and upped the advantage to 46-13 at halftime en route to a 82-31 dismantling of the Panthers in a battle of foes with 3-1 conference records.
The Eagles (9-4, 4-1 BVC) opened the game on an 11-0 run before Trey Hanes put McComb on the board with 4:02 to play in the first.
Zach Garver hit three 3-pointers in a two minute span and finished the opening frame with 11 of his game-high 22 points.
“I think that a quick start is always key in every ballgame and we made some shots early,” Williman said. “We got some defensive stops. We got some transition baskets and it just kind of snowballed.”
In the second quarter, Adam Cytlak took control of the Eagles’ offense and put more pressure on an already wounded McComb defense.
Cytlak ran off 11 straight points thanks to two 3-balls and a three-point play that put Liberty-Benton ahead 37-4 with less than six minutes to play in the first half.
“They obviously got off to a good start and totally took our confidence away,” Roth said. “We got out of everything we wanted to do and it just snowballed from there where they executed their offense and scored. … It was really disappointing to the coaches because we’ve played so well lately. I did not see that coming, but Liberty came out, and they’re a veteran team, and played better than we did and we got what we deserved.”
The Eagles continued their scoring barrage after Cytlak’s burst by feeding 6-foot-6 sophomore Nathan Craft in the low post.
Craft stole a pass that led to a breakaway dunk with 2:27 to play until halftime and closed the quarter with the final two baskets to finish the opening 16 minutes with 10 points of his own.
“It’s important to have an inside-out game,” Williman said. “You have to have to the ability to be able to score inside, along with some good perimeter shooting. As the season has progressed, I think we’ve had good balance scoring throughout the majority of the year. I think it’s hard for somebody to put together a game plan if you have a number of kids on the floor that are capable of scoring.”
Liberty-Benton shot 66.7 percent (18 of 27) from the field in the first half, including 63.6 percent (7 of 11) from beyond the arc. They ended up with a 62.7 shooting percentage (32 of 51) for the game.
A pair of 3-pointers by Hanes early in the third quarter made it 48-19, but the Panthers (6-5, 3-2 BVC) only recorded one more basket the rest of the period and were outscored 23-8 in the quarter.
The Eagles did not have to use full-court pressure to impose their will on McComb, but instead opted to play a half-court man-to-man scheme that forced 16 turnovers and gave the Panthers fits all night.
“They had our offense so far away from the basket, because at one point in the first quarter we actually stopped trying to run plays and just tried to spread them out to see if we could somebody to the basket to get a shot,” Roth said. “Everything we were running they were forcing so far out that we couldn’t execute anything. They just do a great job in half-court defensive pressure.”
Cytlak finished with 20 points and five rebounds and Craft ended with 12 points and a game-high nine boards.
Hanes led the Panthers with eight points.
After losing three straight games at the end of December, Liberty-Benton has reeled off five consecutive victories by an average margin of 32.8 points per game.
The Eagles are tied for second in the BVC with Van Buren and have handed the Black Knights their only league loss of the season.
“I think our defensive intensity has picked up in the last couple weeks,” Williman said. “We’re getting some people back from injuries. I think that our intensity level in practice has picked up. I think we’re practicing better and I think that carried over onto the floor tonight.”
LIBERTY-BENTON (9-4, 4-1 BVC)
Cytlak 8-1–20, Darnall 3-0–6, Lawson 2-1–5, Haan 0-0–0, Rhodes 3-0–6, Garver 7-4–22, Archer 0-0–0, May 2-0–4, Craft 5-2–12, Steinman 1-3–5, Schimmoeller 1-0–2, Boyd 0-0–0. TOTALS: 32-51 11-12 — 82.
MCCOMB (6-5, 3-2 BVC)
Reardon 1-1–4, Glaser 0-0–0, Schroeder 2-0–4, Hanes 3-0–8, Beeson 0-0–0, Dysert 1-0–2, Shoop 0-0–0, Siferd 1-0–3, Bryan 1-0–3, Grubb 2-1-5, Adams 0-0–0, Clark 1-0–2. TOTALS: 12-50 2-3 — 31.
Liberty-Benton 24 22 23 13 — 82
McComb 4 9 8 10 — 31
3-Point GOALS: Liberty-Benton 7-13 (Garver 4, Cytlak 3); McComb 5-21 (Hanes 2, Reardon, Siferd & Bryan).
rebounds: Liberty-Benton 30 (Craft 9); McComb 21 (Adams 5).
turnovers: Liberty-Benton 6; McComb 16.
junior varsity: Liberty-Benton, 48-32.
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