Brock Matson looked calm, cool and collected as he went to the free-throw line in overtime for Liberty on Friday night. That look, though, was just a touch deceiving.
“The first four were shaky,” Matson said. “They kept hitting the rim but I got after them and started swishing them.”
Matson swished 8 of 8 free throws, to be exact, after the Bluejays found themselves in overtime against Blue Springs South in the William Jewell Holiday Classic. Matson’s streak from the stripe proved the difference as Liberty held on for a 64-61 victory in the Cardinal Division semifinal at the Mabee Center in Liberty.
Matson, a 6-foot-3 senior guard, who would have you believe he’s not as good from the line as he was earlier in his high-school career. But Bluejays coach Roger Stirtz said Matson is still the player he’d want up there with the game on the line.
“Without question,” Stirtz said. “He was complaining he was hitting too much rim and they were just crawling in. I said, ‘I don’t care. Just as long as they’re hitting the net, it’s good.’”
Liberty needed Matson’s dead eye after heading into overtime tied 53-53. The Blue Jays led most of the game until Blue Springs South went on a 10-0 fourth-quarter run.
Liberty went back up for good on a Jordan McClellan putback two minutes into overtime, and Matson made the lead stick as he kept drawing fouls. Liberty made 9 of 10 free throws and pushed its lead back up to 62-56 with 15.4 seconds left. That was enough to overcome Blue Springs South’s Chris Walker hitting 2 of 3 free throws after he was fouled putting up a three-pointer and Jack Gillig swishing a three at the buzzer.
Matson finished with 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead Liberty in the grind-it-out game. While the Bluejays led from the first quarter until the fourth, they shot only 35 percent from the field and went 19 for 29 from the free-throw line for the game. They made up for it some by outrebounding the taller Jaguars 55-34.
“It was a struggle,” Stirtz said. “We really didn’t move well offensively. We were out of synch. Part of that was on us and part of that was on Blue Springs South.”
Liberty led 29-22 at the half and pushed its lead to 42-33 with a 9-0 run late in the third quarter. Blue Springs South’s Ethan Swanegan, who led the Jaguars with 20 points, scored the last four points of the quarter and then a three to start the fourth. Swanegan ended the spurt with an and-one that put the Jaguars up 48-42.
“We lost focus,” Stirtz said. “We weren’t focused on getting back on defense, getting our defense set … and against a good team like South that’s going to happen.”
Liberty and Blue Springs South battled through three lead changes and two ties, the last of which came on a putback from Tavis Turner that made it 53-53 with three minutes left. Blue Springs South aired out the ball and couldn’t score, and Matson just missed a shot before the buzzer.
He wouldn’t miss in overtime.
“He needs to shoot more of them but he’s tough enough to get it done,” Stirtz said. “He’s got a lot of self-confidence and he’s a tough, tough kid.”
Friday’s other games
▪ North Kansas City 51, Blue Springs 58: Deng Bol swished a three-pointer from half court at the buzzer to send North Kansas City into the Nelson Division final. Bol’s shot came after Northtown inbounded the ball under Blue Springs’s basket with 6.7 seconds left. Bol led Northtown with 27 points, and TJ Babikir had 23 points. R.J. Lawrence led Blue Springs with 24 points.
▪ Park Hill 58, Rockhurst 54: Nic Zeil sank two free throws with 1.5 seconds left to seal a close victory for Park Hill in the Nelson Division semifinal. Zeil finished with 15 points, leading four Trojans in double figures. Xavier Rhodes led Rockhurst with 13 points.
▪ Lee’s Summit West 64, Raytown 43: Rich Johnson scored 26 points to lead Lee’s Summit West to the Cardinal Division final. LS West, which shot 63 percent from the field, also got 18 points from Christian Bishop. Mason Fair led Raytown with 13 points.
▪ Oak Park 64, Lee’s Summit 53: Oehai Agbaji pumped in 30 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead Oak Park to Saturday’s Patterson Division final. The Northmen, who pulled away from a 26-26 halftime tie, also got 19 points from Ahmad Louis. Will Eames had 19 points and 11 rebounds and Deron McDaniel had 15 points for Lee’s Summit.
▪ Liberty North 55, Grandview 52: Liberty North will face Oak Park in the Patterson Division final after getting 20 points from Robbie Hanson and 13 points and 11 rebounds from Maceleb Hughes. Mason Taylor led Grandview with 17 points.
▪ Staley 66, Summit Christian Academy 52: JD Benbow scored 13 points, Cameron Wilson had 12 points and Bennett Holloway chipped in 11 to lead Staley to the Cardinal Division fifth-place game. Staley also got nine points and 11 rebounds from Byron Alexander. Preston Kliewer scored 22 points and Raef Gerdes had 18 to lead Summit Christian Academy.
▪ Kearney 63, Lincoln Prep 44: Kearney will play Staley for fifth place in the Cardinal Division after getting past Lincoln Prep. Gavin Frizzell scored 24 points and Jake Hoffman added 19 points to lead the Bulldogs.