What had helped Lee’s Summit North build five-point lead midway through the fourth quarter Saturday during a Class 5 state quarterfinal against Liberty ultimately failed them down the stretch.
The Blue Jays held the Broncos scoreless during the last 3 mintues and 40 seconds, rallying for a 44-41 victory by scoring the game’s final eight points.
During the game’s first 28 minutes, North repeatedly finished at the rim, totaling 28 points in the paint, but the Broncos couldn’t make layups in the closing mintues.
“We just didn’t hit the shots at the end,” North coach Tricia Lillygren said. “We had free-throw chances and missed them. We gave up a rebound offensively that hurt us, just didn’t close out the way we wanted to close it out.”
Tiana Gipson made a driving layup with 3:45 remaining, which put the Broncos up 41-36. The rest was all Liberty.
“When you get some stops defensively and hit some shots, we were allowed to crawl back in and I think we wore them down a little bit,” first-year Jays coach Chad Fleming said. “They play five, kind of six, and I think by the end of the game they were tired. That played to our advantage.”
In a battle of star power, North senior center Aiyana Johnson dropped 19 points despite two quick fouls in the first half.
But Liberty senior forward Kayel Newland lit up the Broncos for 21 points, including four from behind the arc, at the other end.
“She’s a big-time kid,” Fleming said of Newland. “We’re fortunate she’s on our team. She can shoot the ball. That’s what she does at a really, really, really high level. We were fortunate she hit some shots for us, because Johnson was really, really good tonight. She was a load. We had a hard time stopping her, and she finished around the rim every time she got it, and we were fortunate the clock ran out there at the end.”
Lillygren made a crucial decision after the first quarter — to put Johnson back in the game despite those two fouls.
Johnson scored all 14 of the Broncos’ second-quarter points after sitting for the final 6:09 of the first quarter with those fouls. Her run erased a 17-8 deficit and gave North a 22-21 advantage at halftime.
“We were just going to trust the senior to play with maturity,” Lillygren said. “She did a phenomenal job coming out the second quarter. She even picked up two charging calls when she had two fouls herself. That’s a gutsy performance. I’m really proud of the kids. They fight. They stay together, and it just didn’t bounce the right way.”
The Broncos 7-for-13 performance from the free-throw line, including missed front end of two one-and-one chances in the final 3:04, certainly didn’t help.
One particular sequence is likely to haunt North: Anija Frazier missed the front of of a one-and-one with the Broncos trailing 42-41 with 37.1 seconds left. Micaela Dickerson came up with the rebound, but the Jays’ Jordan Johnson stuffed her put-back attempt.
“I really think we could have finished a few more free throws,” Lillygren said. “That would have put our mindset and kept us scoring, kept putting some points in the bucket. I was proud of our defense, and we got them to turn the ball over.”
Liberty left the door open when Olivia Nelson missed the front end of her own one-and-one with 10 seconds left, but North wasn’t able to get a good look at a potential game-tying three-pointer.