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Courtland cuts corner in 44-35 win over Liberty boys basketball team

Friday, Dec. 13 | By Jeff Malmgren
Armend and Arber Krasniqi combined for 18 points and six rebounds in Liberty's 44-35 loss to Courtland on Friday. --Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
The Liberty Eagles cornered Courtland.

Courtland shot its way out.

The Cougars used three 3-point field goals in the third quarter to recover from a surprising halftime deficit and went on to win, 44-35, Friday at home in Fredericksburg.

The Eagles built their halftime lead – 19-11 – with an unconventional approach offensively. Less than six minutes into the first quarter, Liberty coach Pat Frazer called for a Four Corner offense. That set is generally used in the closing minutes of a game to preserve a lead with five players moving the ball around the perimeter and taking few risks.

That time-consuming approach created prolonged possessions for Liberty (0-2), slowed the pace of the game and seemed to fluster the Cougars (2-0).

“This is not something we work on all the time,” Frazer said of the Four Corner look. “It was [a product of] how they were guarding us. We thought, ‘Let’s spread them out and see how they do.’ Then, first time it works. Second time it works. ‘Oh, let’s just keep it.’”

Using a more traditional offense Dec. 6, the Eagles lost their season-opener, 78-40, to Chancellor.

“And in a [preseason] scrimmage we lost by 50,” Frazer said. “We were up by 10 [using this Four Corner offense against Courtland]. … It’s hard to disagree with the fact that it’s working.”

It never stopped working, either. The Eagles, however, strayed from the game plan in the third quarter. Courtland began to use a full-court press, which increased the tempo of the game and forced Liberty mistakes.

Against that added pressure, the Eagles couldn’t resist attacking the basket, which often resulted in a frantic missed shot.

“We just got a little antsy,” Frazer said.

“We kind of rushed it, and we just went to try and score instead of dribbling the ball back out and setting up the offense,” said senior forward Arber Krasniqi, who led Liberty with 14 points, four steals and three rebounds. “We didn’t do what the coach told us to do.”

The Eagles made the first field goal of the third quarter to take a 22-11 lead, but then turned the ball over on their next five possessions. That fueled a 17-0 run by Courtland.

The Cougars also adjusted to Liberty’s 1-3-1 zone defense, against which they had nearly as many turnovers as field goal attempts in the first half (11:13). In the third quarter, the Cougars overloaded one side of the floor offensively, which left sharp-shooter Kyle Talley open on the weak side after Liberty’s defense rotated.

“Coach told us, ‘Get out on him every time he touches the ball.’ We knew he could shoot,” Krasniqi said. “That was our game plan – to get out on him especially.”

Midway through the third quarter, in a span of three minutes, Talley went 3-for-3 on 3-pointers, the last of which gave Courtland a 22-21 lead.

“I thought we did a really good job on him” in the first half, Frazer said. “But that’s basketball. They hit big shots and that’s why you win.”

Talley finished with 12 points, six rebounds and three assists, while Jabari Allen had 12 points and game-highs with nine rebounds and two blocks. For the Eagles, Dylan Ramirez and Titus Sizemore had six points each, while Armend Krasniqi had four points and three assists, and Bailey Kestner had three rebounds, two assists and two steals.

In the first half, Liberty forced 11 Courtland turnovers in that 1-3-1 zone as the Cougars tried to force the ball inside to their center, Terrell Robinson, who finished with 14 points and seven rebounds.

Courtland closed the third quarter with a 28-21 lead. Liberty, however, never fell behind by more than seven points until the final 10 seconds of the fourth quarter.

The Eagles stayed within striking distance, in large part, thanks to the Cougars’ free-throw shooting – 10-for-31 (32 percent).

“That was awful,” Courtland coach Montie McMorris said.

McMorris wanted to crawl into a corner at halftime with only 11 points in the scorebook and Frazer running an offense similar to that of Dean Smith's offense during his days coaching the North Carolina Tarheels.

“That was terrible,” McMorris said of the point production. “The old North Carolina. … I wouldn’t have [used] it. They were running it [well] though.”

Liberty’s Four Corner offense and 1-3-1 defense held the Cougars to only 13 field goal attempts in the first half. The Eagles attempted only 12 field goals in the first half, but stuck with their unique offense much of the second half.

“A good team, hold them to 11 points in 16 minutes … why are we going to change?” Frazer said. “If the curveball’s working, why would I throw something else?”

Frazer said the Eagles will continue to use that Four Corner offense, perhaps not with the same frequency as Friday, though.

“If it slows the game down, and it’s in our favor, why not?” Krasniqi said. “If it’s going to make us win games, then I don’t care if we score 10 points.”

Liberty will next play Kettle Run on Tuesday at home in Bealeton.

“With their high-flying attack, are they going to let us sit and do that” offense? Frazer said. “No. But we can spread them out too.

“Are we going to do that every game?” he said. “Who knows?”

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