By Dave Morrison
GLEN DANIEL – Wyoming East senior Jake Bishop had added motivation to win Friday’s Class AA, Region 3, Section 1 play-in game Friday at Liberty.
Not that he needed much, with the end of his final season in the balance.
Bishop and his Warrior teammates lived to play another day with a 50-44 victory over the Raiders.
“I just wanted to make it to Westside Tuesday,” Bishop said. “I wanted another chance to play them. You don’t realize how much you miss something until you don’t have it. After playing them the other day, after thinking that it was going to be the last time, it was heartbreaking. I’m thankful to get another chance to play them and play some more.”
The Warriors had lost to Westside 61-40 in the season finale Tuesday.
Bishop had a big hand in Wyoming East moving on with 19 points, including five on a key 14-0 run to start the second half.
Liberty seemed to gain the momentum going into the half. Liberty’s A.J. Williams, playing just 24 days after suffering a broken arm against the Warriors in the same gym, got a runout dunk that energized the Raiders crowd and gave Liberty a 21-20 lead.
But the Warriors quickly wiped that out, as freshman Chandler Johnson scored five straight to start the third quarter. Bishop and fellow senior Anthony Martin combined for the next seven, Bishop’s three-point play giving the Warriors their first double-figure lead at 32-21at the 4:21 mark of the quarter before Johnson finished the run. Johnson had seven of his nine points on the run.
“We switched switched some defenses up,” Wyoming East coach Derek Brooks said of the run. “And we had Ant (Anthony Martin) back in there (after being in first half foul trouble). He takes up a lot of room inside. We just told them we wanted to go on a little run and stretch it out. I tell these kids every day that the first four minutes of the first quarter’s big and first four minutes of the third quarter’s big. It kind of shows guys where you’re at mentally and you come out ready to play.”
“We came out with mindset to pack it in (on defense) and not let them score on the inside,” Liberty coach Chad Williams said. “In the first half that’s where they were hurting us, on the inside. They started going to the corners and their kids were hitting shots. We didn’t close out. It’s as simple as that. We didn’t close out and make the adjustments we needed to make.”
Liberty made a run at it late, cutting a 12-point 36-24 third quarter deficit in half by the 6:36 mark of the fourth quarter. Nate Griffith had a three-point play, Braden Howell hit a free throw and Williams had a two.
Down eight, 40-32, Williams hit a 3 and Griffith had two more free throws to make it a three-point game.
Wyoming East freshman Garrett Mitchell had a big basket in the paint with 1:10 remaining to give East a five-point lead. Howell hit a 3 to make it 44-42 with under a minute left.
Liberty had a couple looks at shots to either tie the game or take the lead but couldn’t knock them down.
“That was kind of the story of the game for us,” coach Williams said. “We could’t get shots to fall when we needed them.”
Wyoming East made 6 of 7 free throws in the final 31 seconds to close out the game. Tucker Cook and Mitchell, making their first postseason starts and 11th overall, made two each.
“You don’t really know what to expect from young guys in this situation,” Brooks said. “Not many freshmen and sophomores get thrown into sectional tournament play this early in their careers. Yes, we made some turnovers but they are going to. It’s a learning curve. I’m proud of these guys.”
A.J. Williams was the only Raider in double figures with 12 points for Liberty, which finished the season 10-12.
It was the third win for Wyoming East since the new-look Warriors took the floor after three starters and four of the top seven players left the team. Wyoming East was also without Tanner Whitten, who suffered a back injury the last time these two teams met. He had been the leading scorer for the Warriors since midseason.
Wyoming East (7-16) had lost five straight by an average of 29.4 ppg since Whitten was hurt.
In addition to Bishop’s 19 points, Mitchell had 10 and Cook and Johnson had nine each.
Seniors Ethan Hill and Nate Griffith had nine each for the Raiders.
Wyoming East 50, Liberty 44
Wyoming East (7-16)
Tucker Cook 3 2-2 9, Garrett Mitchell 3 3-5 10, Jacob Bishop 8 3-5 19, Anthony Martin 1 1-2 3, Chandler Johnson 4 0-0 9, Jacob Howard 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 19 9-14 50.
Braden Howell 2 1-3 7, Ethan Hill 4 1-1 9, Hunter Lambert 1 0-0 3, Nate Griffith 3 3-3 9, Adam Drennen 2 0-0 4, A.J. Willams 5 0-0 12. TOTALS: 17 5-7 44.
Wyoming East 8 12 16 12 – 50
Liberty 9 12 7 16 – 44
Three-point field goals – WE: 3 (Cook, Mitchell, Johnson) L: 5 (Howell 2, Lambert 1, Williams 2) Fouled out – L: Griffith.