In the most important Suburban Conference White Division game so far this season, Liberty North senior center Michael Hughes started strong and then made two key baskets midway through the fourth quarter that halted Raytown’s momentum.
Liberty North’s 11-point lead early in the fourth quarter had slipped to four before Hughes made consecutive baskets in the paint that stretched the Eagles’ advantage back to eight.
That was enough of a cushion, and Liberty North pulled out a 52-44 victory on Friday night at Liberty North.
The Eagles improved to 15-3 overall and 5-0 in the White Division; Raytown dropped to 15-4 and 6-1.
“This game meant a lot,” said Liberty North sophomore James Perry, who scored a team-high 15 points. “A big win like this gives us a big lift.”
The game started with Hughes, a 6-foot-9 center, making an emphatic statement with a monstrous dunk. The Eagles rode that crowd-pleasing play to an early 8-0 lead. Hughes scored eight of Liberty North’s 15 points in the first quarter. He finished with 14 points in the game.
But the key reason Liberty North went into halftime with a 30-21 lead was the scoring from Perry. Throughout the second quarter, Perry found the soft spot in the zone and knocked down field goals around the free-throw line.
Perry made all four of his field-goal attempts in the second period and scored nine points.
Also contributing off the bench for the Eagles in the second quarter was sophomore Robbie Hanson, who drilled two three-pointers. The two sophomores accounted for all 15 points in the second quarter for Liberty North.
“They were a huge lift for us to keep Raytown at arms’ length and let us catch our breath and make some adjustments,” Liberty North coach Chris McCabe said. “They hit some big shots and kept Raytown off-balanced defensively.”
The Eagles needed those contributions because Raytown junior guard Bryan Blanks, who finished with 15 points, found success driving to the basket and sophomore forward Mason Fair made a couple of strong moves in the paint. Blanks and Fair combined for nine points in the second quarter.
Liberty North maintained its advantage in the third quarter and was ahead 41-30 early in the fourth quarter when senior Michael Wansing made a basket.
Raytown fought back and closed to 41-37 with just under 5 minutes remaining in the game. But Hughes came up with two straight buckets followed by another basket by Wansing that increased the Eagles’ lead to 47-37.
“Those two baskets were really big,” Perry said of the scores by Hughes. “He’s our go-to guy. Anytime he is going, our whole team is going. He dictates the pace of our play and the energy we have.”