LHS boys advance ’Canes get past Freedom in EPC opening round
The Hurricane in Bethlehem continues to gain strength.
The one on the basketball court, that is.
Liberty’s basketball team won its 15th consecutive game and kept its slate clean since the New Year, as the Hurricanes downed Allentown Central Catholic, 60-53, in an East Penn Conference (EPC) semifinal at the PPL Center in Allentown Monday night.
With its win, second-seeded Liberty (20-4) will meet top-seeded Allen - a 66-61 overtime winner over Parkland - for the EPC final back on the same court Thursday evening.
The Hurricanes were coming off a hard-fought, intense battle with crosstown rival Freedom in which they registered a 55-52 win Friday night.
Both victories for the Hurricanes basically followed the same script, as they relied on the senior leadership down the stretch.
Yet, the Hurricanes received a major lift from sophomore Joe Barnes, who scored 15 of his game-high 20 points in the final quarter.
Liberty appeared to take control of the game early in the second half against Central Catholic, but the Vikings kept pecking away and eventually cut a constant double-digit deficit to five with just over 2:30 to play.
“Joe (Barnes) has been building to a game like this all season,” said Liberty head coach Chad Landis. “He certainly gave us a big lift at a key point of the game. He has become more seasoned since the start of the year, and I was happy with his performance tonight.”
Senior big man and leading scorer Will Harper fouled out with just under three minutes remaining, but fellow senior guard Rahmad Ali kept pace in the second half. Ali scored seven of his nine points in the third quarter to help the ‘Canes to a comfortable 42-30 advantage after three quarters.
“All of our seniors care capable of big spurts,” added Landis. “We needed the spurt that Ali gave us. It helped us break the game open at that point. All of our seniors have done a great job this season.
“Our game plan was to use our size and athleticism to our advantage.”
Neither team could gain an advantage in the opening half, but Liberty managed a slight 24-21 advantage at intermission. The Hurricanes drilled home five three-pointers, two by Antonio Montgomery.
In their game against Freedom, Montgomery and Harper each scored 12 points with Harper grabbing 12 rebounds.
Liberty held a slim lead at the end of each of the first three quarters, but Freedom battled back to tie the contest twice in the final stanza.
Similar to their game against Central Catholic, the Hurricanes grinded out an 18-point third quarter to seemingly take control of the game.
Freedom’s Mims brothers had trouble creating space against Liberty’s zone all night. Caleb Mims finished with 16 points and Malek had nine. Caleb Mims missed a potential-tying three-pointer in the final seconds.
The Patriots (15-8) will enter the district playoffs Feb. 22 with a five-game losing streak.
“The third quarter seemed to be the difference in the game,” said Freedom head coach Joe Stellato. “We hit a bad stretch after halftime, but we right there at the end.”