First year Independence head boys basketball coach, Mike Green, wasn’t quite sure what to expect from his first Raleigh County rivalry game when Liberty came to Coal City.
One thing Green did know, however, was he had a special talent up top in 6-foot-2 junior guard, Zach Bolen.
With the score tied and Independence holding the ball for the last shot, Bolen attacked the basket from the right wing in the waning seconds. When the Liberty defender moved to stop the drive, Bolen spun back into the lane for the game-winning layup, giving the Patriots a thrilling, 71-69 win.
“We wanted to hold the ball for the last shot and I told Zach we were going to go with about 18 seconds,” Green said. “We run a little guards-down play and I wanted him to come off the top screen. We had Michael (McKinney) running on the backside and we had Jared (Cannady). So, we had three options off that play.”
Getting hired just after the season started, it taken Green a little time to find the best spots for his personnel.
“Zach has been so solid since we moved him up top, which is probably his more natural position,” Green said. “It took me a little while to really figure that out, but, he has really settled into that position. I think he has found a home there.”
Liberty held a 54-51 lead after three quarters, but all was not well because the Raiders leading scorer, A.J. Williams had picked up his fourth foul late in the third period.
With Williams sitting to start the final quarter, hoping to buy some time, Indy forced Liberty head coach Chad Williams’ hand when a 3-ball from Cannady tied the game with 6:54 to play.
“I wanted to wait until the three or four minute mark, but I saw the momentum starting to get away from us,” Williams said about his decision to bring back his scorer. “I knew if I didn’t bring him back the score likely would not have been where it was.”
The move paid dividends immediately when Williams drilled a corner 3 to give him 25 points on the night. Things got worse for Indy when they lost Ethan Hill on an in-bounds play for an easy score to give Liberty a 61-56 lead.
With Liberty riding the momentum, Williams got the ball on a run-out and attacked the basket, drawing contact. Unfortunately for the Raiders, the call did not go their way and Williams was hit with a charge for his fifth foul.
“A.J. said the defender was moving and I had to agree with him,” coach Williams said. “It is what it is and you have to play through it. To lose him and Adam Drennen right behind him, there went our inside presence. To their credit, however, the kids never laid down.”
Hunter Lambert pushed the Liberty lead to seven points when he hit an off-balance runner across the lane and Liberty again looked like it was going to pull away from the home team.
The situation was nothing new to the Patriots who had fought back from several deficits all night.
“The boys were resilient tonight for sure. I am new to this rivalry game and I really didn’t fully understand the intensity of it. Without Atticus (Goodson) tonight, who has been our most consistent player, I was worried how we would respond without him here controlling that middle. Everybody stepped up tonight and it was a great win, a sectional win. It was big for us.”
Sophomore Carter Adkins hit a 3 to kickstart Indy who went on a 9-0 run, capped by a 3 that was banked in from McKinney.
After the two teams traded baskets, Nate Griffith gave Liberty a 68-67 lead with a clutch 3 with just over a minute to play. In a precursor of things to come, Bolen attacked the basket and was fouled on a spin-move. Bolen nailed both attempts before Liberty tied the game with a free-throw with 54 seconds to play.
“He is smooth and he is good with the ball, that is his strength,” Green said about putting the ball in Bolen’s hands. “His strength is around the basket, being shifty, getting shots.”
Although it was a tough loss, Williams was pleased with his team Thursday.
“I thought we had better energy tonight and I thought we fought better,” Williams said. “I feel like we relied too much on our jumpers instead of getting to the basket. Other than that, we got a little stagnate at times with the offense, but, I liked the effort from us.”
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter at @Rusman1981
Ethan Hill 9, Braden Howell 10, Nate Griffith 7, Adam Drenner 9, AJ Williams 25, Hunter Lambert 9.
AJ Zilinski 4, Cyrus Goodson 9, Carter Adkins 8, Logan Phalin 9, Michael McKinney 8, Jared Cannady 17, Zach Bolen 16.
L: 12 21 21 15 — 69
I: 14 16 21 20 — 71
3-point goals: L: 8 (Howell, Griffith, Williams 5, Lambert); I: 5 (C. Goodson, Adkins, McKinney 2, Cannady 3). Fouled out: Drenner (L), Williams (L).