Liberty junior A.J. Cambric knew he wasn’t making it easy on himself, but there was no time to dwell on that. After clanking the first of two free throws off the back of rim, he stepped back to the free-throw line with the championship game of the Stessman Tournament in his hands.
A quick glance at the scoreboard told him what he already knew — tie game, 2.8 seconds remaining in overtime.
“Just have to clear your mind and relax,” he later said. “Can’t think about anything at all.”
Dribble. Dribble. Swish.
Liberty 53, Raytown 52.
“Man, I was just happy,” he said. “And a little relieved.”
So too was Liberty after it had allowed Raytown to erase a 15-point lead in the second half and force overtime.
With a chance to complete the comeback, Raytown forward Jailen Gill was whistled for an over-the-back foul on an offensive rebound, sending Cambric to the line in the double bonus.
“At the end of first hour this morning, I had them all make 10 free throws before they hit the showers, and A.J. shot his free throws really well,” Liberty coach Roger Stirtz said. “I knew he was going to make at least one of them. I thought he was going to make two actually, but we’ll take one.”
Cambric scored only three points in the championship victory on his home floor, none of them more important than his final shot. Brandyn Moultrie and Kellan Turner led Liberty with 13 points apiece.
Behind its guard play, Liberty turned a one-point deficit in the second quarter into a 41-26 advantage in the waning moments of the third. Brandon Sublett, however, buried a three-point from the top of the key at the third-quarter buzzer, sparking a 21-6 Raytown run to close out regulation.
Gill pulled Raytown even on a put-back with 1:09 remaining. Liberty elected to hold for the final shot, but Turner’s potential game-winner didn’t draw iron, sending the game to overtime tied at 47.
“I thought we lost a little focus there in the fourth quarter,” Stirtz said. “It seemed like we were on our heels too much. We needed to get that look in our eyes back, and we got it back.”
Just in time.
Sublett opened the four-minute extra period with a free throw to give Raytown its first lead since 17-16, but it was the only one it enjoyed in overtime. It fell to 11-5 on the year.
“We got a little rattled, had a couple of turnovers,” Raytown coach Cody Buford said. “It was really our first big game in a crowded, smaller venue. It’s a great experience for us. You can’t put a price tag on this. You can’t simulate this in practice. We’ll take this experience tonight and take it into next week.”