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Liberty gets first win of boys basketball season, beats Brentsville, 55-49

Thursday, Feb. 6 | By Jeff Malmgren

Arber Krasniqi had 12 points during Liberty's first win this season, a 55-49 victory over Brentsville on Thursday. --Photo by Rick Wasser
Confetti didn’t fall from the rafters after the Liberty Eagles got their first win of the boys basketball season Thursday.

Instead, debris showered the gym floor near the feet of Liberty coach Pat Frazer and leading scorer Armend Krasniqi as custodians used leaf blowers to clean off the bleachers following the Eagles’ 55-49 win over the Brentsville Tigers on the road in Nokesville.

That seemed to fit the scene better than confetti, though. The Eagles had just figuratively brushed from their shoulders the residue of 15 consecutive losses. They also didn’t celebrate the win in any grand fashion.

The Eagles felt happy, but one victory during two months of basketball still wasn’t ideal.

“It feels good, but … we don’t want to celebrate for one win,” Krasniqi said. “We want to have the attitude like we’re used to it. Last year’s team, you win a game, it’s an everyday thing.”

Liberty finished last season with a 12-13 record after going 17-6 in 2011-12. The Eagles now have a 1-15 record this season and, prior to Thursday, they hadn’t won a game since Feb. 13, 2013.

“It breaks you down mentally, physically, everything,” Krasniqi said of a losing streak that spanned 17 games over two seasons. “You have people complaining; everybody saying we suck. You just ignore all that and come out playing hard. … That’s what we did.”

Meanwhile, Brentsville’s record fell to 3-12 with the nonconference loss to Liberty. The Tigers have a 2-7 record in Conference 27, while the Eagles are 0-8 in Conference 22.

Despite the Eagles’ winless status, Brentsville coach Al Ford wasn’t surprised by their performance Thursday.

“Conference 22 is a good conference,” he said. “They’ve been battle-tested even in the losses against Conference 22 opponents. … They came in hungry.”

“We came out like ‘We’re going to win this one,’” Krasniqi said. “You’ve got to come out confident.”

The Eagles didn’t begin that mission well, though. They fell behind 21-10 in the first quarter as Brentsville made a pair of 3-pointers and converted a pair of three-point plays after being fouled on layups.

In fact, the Tigers made 7 of 9 field goals (78 percent) in the first quarter against Liberty’s porous man-to-man defense.

Brentsville “did such a good job of getting to the hole and getting to the free-throw line,” Frazer said. “Our man [defense] was awful, and I wasn’t going to get out of it in the first quarter. They [the Eagles] need to be able to do this.”

Liberty’s offense looked bad, too. Trailing by 11 points, the Eagles got the final possession of the first quarter with less than 10 seconds remaining. Unaware of the clock, they didn’t even attempt a shot before the buzzer sounded.

Seated on the bench, Frazer took a long look at his shoes.

“We’re way past yelling and throwing things,” Frazer said. “But that says a lot about my kids. It could easily be ‘Gosh, this is over.’ They kept battling.”

The Tigers had a 10-0 run during the first quarter, but Liberty countered with a 15-0 run in the second quarter. Krasniqi, Bailey Russell and Brendan Smith each made a 3-pointer in the period, while Dylan Ramirez converted a three-point play.

Liberty took a lead as large as 32-24 in the second quarter and adjusted well as Brentsville switched between zone defenses – 2-1-2, 2-3 and 3-2.

“At times we did a very good job on offense – better than we have all season,” Frazer said.

“They started going inside … and we were a little soft,” Ford said. “They took advantage of it and got a little momentum. … That was a huge quarter.”

The Tigers narrowed Liberty’s lead to 34-31 at the end of the second quarter, tied the score, 42-42, by the end of the third, and took a one-point lead early in the fourth. Smith, however, made a 3-pointer with 4 minutes, 46 seconds remaining in the fourth to give the Eagles the lead for good.

Brentsville threatened that lead, though.

With 2:30 left in the fourth, and a 51-47 lead, Liberty burned time by running a Four Corners offense. Frazer then called a timeout as the Eagles nearly turned the ball over.

That Four Corners look forced Brentsville to change from zone defense to man-to-man coming out of the timeout break. A few seconds later, Hakeem Johnson made a layup on a give-and-go play with Dylan Ramirez, giving the Eagles a more comfortable cushion, 53-47, with 96 seconds remaining.

“That was good stuff,” Frazer said. “I figured if we run that, we might be able to get a quick layup. Otherwise we can just kind of” burn time.

Johnson finished with six assists, four points and two steals, while Krasniqi had 15 points and six rebounds.

“Armend did a great job,” Frazer said. “Against the zone, you need someone with the ball-handling skills and Armend did a nice job of getting inside.”

Arber Krasniqi added 12 points and three assists, while Ramirez had nine points, seven rebounds and two steals. Smith had eight points.

For Brentsville, Christian Aldea had a game-high 22 points – making 11 of 13 free throws – and added four assists, four steals and four rebounds.

“This was his best game,” Ford said. “We actually challenged him … and he came through.

“He took it to the basket strong,” Ford said. “Unfortunately we didn’t have enough [teammates] helping him in the scoring column.”

Josh Paumen added 12 points and four rebounds for the Tigers, while Tre Ford had seven points and four rebounds.

Whatever way Liberty celebrates its win Thursday – confetti, or not – there won’t be much time for it. The Eagles are scheduled to play Friday against Culpeper – the Conference 27 leader. Then Liberty has three more regular season games on its schedule before entering the Conference 22 tournament.

“One win, that’s not what I signed up for,” Frazer said. “We’re going to keep trying to win some ballgames.”

“Sometimes you get that win and that monkey is off [your back] and then you play much looser,” he said. “You just never know.”

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