Liberty was riding high, coming off a win against Class AA No. 8 Webster County on Wednesday night. Summers County was looking to rebound after a trio of tough losses against Bluefield and Wyoming East.
In a closely played battle of the two sectional rivals, it took every tick of the clock for 36 minutes to determine a winner.
As the buzzer sounded for the last time, Summers County was on top 66-63 over the Raiders.
The game featured two of the region’s most talked about players in the speedy guard TaRon Ayers for Summers and the 6-foot-10 Levi Cook for Liberty. While both players led their team in scoring, it was the duo of Isaiah Brown and TJ Smith who ended the night as heroes.
In the final minutes of regulation, Liberty went on a 9-0 run. However, the clutch shooting of Brown and Smith would not let the Bobcats go down with the loss.
Ayers drove the lane and dished out to a wide open Smith who hit a 3-pointer to bring the game to 54-60. Josh Graham and Matt Ryan hit a pair of buckets to bring the score to 58-60.
After being fouled, the big man for Liberty, Levi Cook went to the line for a pair of free throws, only hitting one to make the lead 61-58.
With less than 30 seconds remaining in regulation, Isaiah Brown shook off a defender and buried a 3-pointer to sent the game to overtime 61-61.
“We were up 9 in the final minutes, but we had to play like it was a last second shot in the end,” Liberty coach Aaron Pauley said. “You can’t do that and expect to come away with the win.”
In overtime, the Liberty guards couldn’t seem to get the ball to Cook, due to the high pressure defense of Ayers.
As time ran down, Liberty’s Michael Prater drove the lane, but turned the ball over, allowing Summers to hold for the last shot.
While the Liberty defense focused on Ayers with the ball, he drove the lane and once against dished outside to Smith who drained a 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds remaining to secure the victory for the Bobcats.
“I knew what the play was,” Smith said. “It was a screen on the ball for TaRon, and their players just kind of collapsed on him. I was open and just knocked down the shot.”
The ending was eerily similar to the last time the two schools met, early in the season when Ayers hit a game-winning shot. This time it was his cousins, Smith and Brown who handled the business.
“When Isaiah hit the shot I was like...” Smith said.
“There is a god!” Summers coach James “Pistol” Payne interupted with a laugh.
“I thought we were going to play some extra minutes of basketball. I knew our defense could continue to hold them for just a little bit longer,” Smith said.
The defense held Cook to just 20 points on the night.
“How do you game plan for Levi?” Payne asked. “You try to put so much pressure on the perimeter that they can’t throw him the ball. I mean, it’s not like you can play behind him. He’s 6-foot-10 and 300 lbs.”
Payne was complimentary of the development for the WVU commit.
“I want to give him high marks. He’s got himself in much better shape. I was surprised at how hard he played last night (against Webster County) and then to come out here and play as much as he did and as hard as he did says a lot.”
The win was a big one for the Bobcats when it comes to seeding for the sectional tournament. The victory likely moves Summers into third place.
“It’s a tough section,” Payne said. “It was a huge game for us and Liberty. The winner won’t have to play the play-in game versus Independence.”
The four and five seeds will play at the home court of the No. 1 seed on the Friday before the sectional tournament. That seed will likely be decided in tonight’s Wyoming East and Westside game.
“I’ll be glad knowing we likely won’t have to go to Westside for that game,” Payne said with a chuckle.
It’s 70 miles from Hinton to Clear Fork.
Summers County will welcome Independence into Hinton for Senior Night on Saturday for a 5:30 p.m. tip. It will be followed by the Charleston Catholic and Summers County girls game. Liberty will travel to Webster County on the same day with a 7:30 p.m. tip.
Summers County 66, Liberty 63
Austin Lyons 1 2-4 5, Michael Prater 2 0-0 4, Levi Cook 9 2-7 20, Trevor McGhee 7 2-5 16, Tre McDowell 3 0-0 6, Matt Klucarich 4 2-2 12. Totals: 26 8-18 63.
Summers County (9-7)
Isaiah Brown 3 0-0 7, Matt Ryan 1 1-2 3, Taron Ayers 14 1-2 33, Jaquan Ayers 1 0-0 3, Josh Graham 3 0-0 6, TJ Smith 3 5-8 14. Totals: 25 7-19 66.
L 18 12 15 16 2 — 63
SC 13 17 13 18 5 — 66
3-point goals — L: 3 (Klucarich 2, Lyons); SC: 9 (Ayers 4, Smith 3, J. Ayers, Brown). Fouled out — L: Lyons
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