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Kettle Run survives late Liberty push in boys basketball rivalry

Tuesday, Dec. 17 | By Jeff Malmgren
Kettle Run's Brendan Deliee attacks the basket during a 41-37 win over Liberty on Tuesday. --Photo by Rick Wasser
The Kettle Run Cougars carved out a model of near-perfect basketball during the second quarter Tuesday.

They spent the next 16 minutes dragging it through the mud.

So the finished product wasn't pretty, but Kettle Run did emerge with a 41-37 victory over the Liberty Eagles on the road in Bealeton.

"I'm always happy about the win, but it was ugly at times," Cougars coach Troy Washington said. "We did not have a great practice yesterday, and it carried over."

Kettle Run (3-0) committed 19 turnovers in the second half and allowed Liberty (0-3) to rally from a 26-13 deficit at halftime to a 32-30 deficit at the end of the third quarter.

The second quarter saved Kettle Run, though. The Cougars did not turn the ball over once in that period, held Liberty to only five field goal attempts and used beautiful passing to assist six of their seven field goals (14 attempts). Kettle Run went on a 19-4 in the second after the Eagles had scored the first two points of the quarter to take a 9-8 lead.

"I thought maybe that was the lightning rod that we needed," Washington said.

It wasn't. Liberty began the third quarter on an 11-2 run and finished the period on a 6-2 run, making Kettle Run's lead only two points at the end of the third. The Eagles played with better defensively intensity, while the Cougars played passively and sloppily.

"We were in a funk tonight," Kettle Run senior Danny Mattson said. "There's no answer for it."

"We didn't have as much energy as we usually do," senior Eddie Benton said. "We just weren't feeling it, and it showed."

Not even an emphatic dunk by Benton could rouse the Cougars. He scored the first basket of the fourth quarter by driving from the left wing, effortlessly rising toward the rim and dunking the ball as Liberty's Titus Sizemore tried to take a charge.

"Dunking on the kid … I've never done that before," Benton said. "I didn't plan on it when I took off. … I was thinking layup – just go up and maybe get fouled."

The crowd in Liberty's gym murmured for almost two minutes after the dunk. The Cougars continued to muddle along, though.

"I thought that was going to start us up and we were just going to take off," Mattson said. "We were pumped up right afterward, but … kind of deflated again."

After sharing the ball so well in the second quarter, the Cougars became unselfish to a fault in the second half. They often penetrated toward the basket, but then passed the ball around until, seemingly, they found a more difficult shot.

As a result, Kettle Run had 10 turnovers in the third quarter and nine in the fourth. The Cougars made only 7 of 20 field goal attempts in the second half.

"We try to make the prettier play sometimes [instead of] getting our fundamentals down and finishing when we need to," Mattson said.

Kettle Run senior Rashawn Latimer rarely shies away from taking shots. The Cougars could have used him Tuesday, but Latimer did not play for the second consecutive game.

"It's a personal matter right now, and I'm just going to leave it at that," Washington said.

Latimer sat on the Kettle Run bench in street clothes.

Without their leading scorer, the Cougars got 12 points from Benton, 10 from Mattson and nine from senior Brendan Deliee. Benton also had nine rebounds and two assists, while Deliee had seven rebounds, three assists and two steals, Mattson had six rebounds, and Christian Yancey had four assists, two steals and five points. Yancey was the only other Cougar to score more than two points, though.

"Obviously it's a struggle somewhat without Rashawn because that's 20 points and 10 rebounds a game," Mattson said. "But everyone else just has to step up."

Liberty's defense also had a lot to do with Kettle Run's offensive struggles. After playing a lot of 1-3-1 zone in the second quarter, the Eagles switched to man-to-man in the third quarter and started forcing turnovers with an aggressive approach against Kettle Run's ball-handlers.

"I wanted to see if we could get some layups, and we did," Frazer said. "There's no moral victories, but we played our butts off defensively. … We knew from Day One, if we were going to be competitive this year, we had to play physical, and we had to play tough."

Kettle Run never led by more than six points in the fourth quarter and only a breakaway dunk by Benton with 19.4 seconds remaining in the period ended the Eagles' hopes.

The Cougars, however, finished with 23 turnovers to the Eagles' 17, and Liberty scored most of its points in transition after those Kettle Run turnovers. The Eagles struggled to produce offense out of their half-court sets, though, and shot only 36.4 percent (16 of 44) in the game.

"We took a lot of good shots in the second half," Frazer said. "We've got to be able to make some."

The Eagles averaged only 37.3 points per game this season. Arber Akrasniqi led them Tuesday with 11 points and three steals, while Bailey Russell had seven points, four rebounds and three steals. Dylan Ramirez added eight rebounds, two assists and two steals.

"Maybe it's, offensively, we're trying to do too much of what I want and you become stagnate," Frazer said. "So maybe we need to open it up a little more.

"I'm learning as well with this team," he said of a largely inexperienced unit.

Liberty began the season with a 78-40 loss to Chancellor after losing some fall league games to Kettle Run by about 40 points. But then the Eagles played much better during a recent loss to Courtland, 44-35, and during the loss Tuesday to the Cougars.

"We're not that far off," Frazer said. "Our kids could easily come into this and say, 'Hopefully we can just lose by 20.' But we didn't. We went out there expecting to win."

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