Shady Spring knew its game with Liberty came down to one thing.
Deny Levi Cook the ball.
It was a tall order: The 6-foot-10 sophomore center had already scored 32 points on the Tigers, on 12 field goals and 8 of 8 shooting from the foul line.
Undaunted, Shady played its best 16.8 seconds of defense of the game. Cook was denied the ball, and a desperation shot by Andrew Lyons bounced off the rim to preserve a 78-76 Tigers victory at Glen Daniel.
“Our only chance was to try to cut back on that pass as much as we can,” Shady coach Steve Clark said. “Levi is big and physical inside, and when he gets the ball inside, he’s going to score.”
The game had been billed as a classic inside-outside battle between Cook, who has already verbally committed to West Virginia University, and the Tigers’ sharpshooting guard Chase Connor.
Instead, it was anything but a two-man show, particularly for the Tigers.
Connor started off red-hot, firing in four 3-point goals in the first quarter alone to balance 11 points from Cook.
But after picking up his second foul early in the second period, he did not score again in the half.
Reserve guard Jordan Meadows took up the slack, however, knocking down four 3s of his own to keep the Tigers within two at halftime, 40-38.
“We were double-teaming Chase, but we didn’t do a good job of getting out on (the other) shooters,” Raiders coach Aaron Pauley said. “We got caught sleeping, and they knocked them down.”
Shady went to a balanced attack in the third, getting strong inside play from Jacob Buckland and forward Corey Snyder, as well as from its guards, to go up 65-59.
Liberty responded, as Lyons and fellow guard Trevor McGhee hit two baskets apiece, and Cook got a stickback and two foul shots to retake the lead, 72-71 with 3:01 to play.
Connor, guarded by quick guard Tré McDowell, did not manage a field goal once again in the fourth period, but hit 4 of 5 foul shots.
The lead changed hands several times down the stretch before Connor hit the first shot of a 1-and-1 to put Shady up 78-76.
Cook rebounded the miss and Liberty brought the ball downcourt. Pauley called time out at the 16.8 mark, and the Raiders looked to get the ball to Cook.
A deflected pass forced another inbounds play with 8.7 seconds to go. Cook was covered tightly by Buckland and Tyler Bonds, and McDowell had to pass to Lyons.
After seeing there was no chance to get the ball inside to the big man, Lyons drove in for the tie and missed.
“Jacob is pretty quick, and Tyler is a big ol’ boy himself,” Clark said. “He can get a little bit physical. He worked hard.
Pauley said working the ball inside to Cook is not as easy as you’d think.
“People wonder why we don’t get him the ball much, but you have to realize he’s getting double- and triple-teamed every time down the floor.
“Our guards can only look for him for so long, and then somebody is coming over to guard him.”
Cook finished with 32 points. 14 rebounds and three steals. Lyons had 13 points and three thefts, while McGhee scored 11 points.
Connor led the Tigers with 23 points, along with four steals. Buckland added 14 points and 14 rebounds, while Meadows scored 13 points and Snyder had 11.
“They covered Chase well, and he had to work for everything he got,” Clark said. “We had some other kids to step up and play well.”
Both teams are back in action Thursday. Liberty will play at Webster County while Shady Spring travels to Oak Hill.
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Shady Spring (7-4)
Chase Connor 6 6-6 23, Steven Chhabra 2 0-0 4, Jacob Buckland 6 2-4 14, Juwan Rose 2 3-4 7, Corey Snyder 4 1-1 11, Jordan Meadows 4 1-2 13, Tyler Bonds 3 0-0 6. Totals: 27 13-17 78.
Michael Prater 2 1-2 6, Andrew Lyons 6 1-2 13, Tré McDowell 4 0-0 8, Trevor McGhee 4 3-5 11, Levi Cook 12 8-8 32, Matt Klucarich 3 0-0 7. Totals: 30 14-17 76.
SS 19 19 27 13 — 78
L 19 21 19 17 — 76
3-point goals — SS: 11 (Connor 5, Snyder 2, Meadows 4); L: 2 (Prater, Klocarich). Fouled out — None.