Raytown senior guards Brandon Sublett and Will Nelson were relentless driving into the paint Friday night against Liberty in the championship game of the C.W. Stessman Liberty Invitational Basketball Tournament.
They combined for 30 points, leading Raytown to a 56-46 victory in the battle of the Blue Jays.
“We saw they were sagging off, so we got into the middle to get easier shots,” Sublett said.
On this night, the Blue Jays from Raytown proved their strong inside play was better than the outside shooting of the Blue Jays from Liberty.
Raytown, which improved to 9-6, failed to connect on a couple of three-point attempts. Liberty made six three-pointers but missed many more and couldn’t get into an offensive rhythm.
Since starting the season 0-5, Raytown has won nine of its last 10.
“We are back on track,” Sublett said. “It is good we are doing now. Our struggles made us better.”
Nelson came up big for Raytown in the third quarter. Raytown needed his eight points as Liberty battled back and closed to 40-35.
In the fourth quarter, Sublett took over, scoring six points. One of his biggest baskets came immediately after Josh Mapel completed a three-point play that pulled Liberty within four points at 44-40.
Sublett’s basket gave Raytown a six-point cushion and stopped Liberty from building momentum.
The inside presence of Raytown’s 6-foot-8 Derrick Walker and 6-7 Jailen Gill also opened up the middle for the team’s guards.
A few minutes later, another driving basket by Sublett put Raytown ahead 50-41.
“I thought their bigs did a really good job defensively,” Liberty coach Roger Stirtz said.
“It affected our inside game. To counter that, we weren’t consistent enough on the perimeter.”
The first half was a contrast in styles. Liberty put up three-pointers, and Raytown pounded the ball inside. The outside shots weren’t consistently falling for Liberty and that allowed Raytown to take a 26-19 lead into halftime.
The inside trend started early for Raytown, which scored the first two baskets of the game in the paint for a 4-0 lead.
A couple of times the three-pointers worked for Liberty in the first quarter. A three-pointer by Mason Stirtz pulled Liberty within one at 6-5, and another three-pointer by Jalen Lewis tied the game 8-8.
Liberty took an 11-10 lead late in the first quarter on a three-pointer by Craig Straws.
But Raytown stayed with its inside game. A basket by Sublett sent Raytown into the second quarter with a 12-11 lead.
In the second quarter, the outside shots stopped falling for Liberty. Raytown took advantage in the last 4 minutes of the second quarter, turning a narrow 18-17 lead into a seven-point halftime advantage.