The Liberty Eagles' bench teemed with motivation Friday.
That helped them beat the Fauquier Falcons in surprisingly emphatic fashion, 73-56, at home in Bealeton.
First, a group of Liberty teachers sat on that bench pregame during a Teacher Appreciation ceremony that impassioned the boys basketball players. Later, David Milton came off that bench to score a season-high 21 points after losing his spot in the starting lineup earlier this week.
"When he benched me," Milton said of Liberty coach Pat Frazer, "it just [lit] a fire in me to get better."
Milton also had four rebounds and two steals Friday, only two days after he came off the bench during Liberty's 48-41 victory over Kettle Run, against which he played well en route to eight points, two blocks and two steals. Liberty's victory over the Cougars broke a 12-game
losing streak to Fauquier County opponents that stretched back to Feb. 13, 2013.
By following that victory with one over Fauquier, the Eagles now have a winning streak for the first time since Feb. 1, 2013.
They began this season with a 1-10 record after going 1-19 last season, but they're playing with renewed vigor this week.
"It's just confidence," Eagles point guard Hakeem Johnson said. "Coach always told us all year, 'We're going be there'" in the win column.
Liberty now has a 3-10 record and actually moved ahead of Fauquier (5-11) in the Conference 22 standings. The Eagles are 1-6 in conference play while the Falcons are 1-8.
The Eagles have played fewer games because their first four contests were postponed as they waited for Liberty's football season to end. At least four football players joined the basketball team late, including starters in Johnson, Chris Mighty and Dylan Ramirez.
"If you have half of your team playing football, they can't just walk in and be ready to win a championship," Milton said. "It takes a while.
"It was hard at times," he said, "but we always had it in the back of our heads."
Also on the Eagles' minds Friday was that Teacher Appreciation ceremony. Each player chose an educator to honor. So each teacher sat on the bench pregame and then ran out to midcourt in the same way players do during the starting lineup announcements. The players met their teachers on the court and gave them T-shirts as the crowd cheered.
"It really got us pumped up," Milton said. "We couldn't have all that [excitement] and come out and lay an egg against our rivals."
Although the Eagles immediately fell behind 8-0 in the first quarter, they later composed some impressive runs of their own – 9-0 in the first period, 11-0 during the second and third quarters, and 12-0 during the third and fourth periods. Those stretches helped them overcome a 21-16 first-quarter deficit to take a 31-29 lead by halftime. Liberty later took a lead as large as 65-46 en route to the 17-point win.
The game progressed much differently than the Eagles' last meeting with Fauquier. The Falcons won that Dec. 29 contest with shocking ease, 70-36.
"We weren't going to let that happen again," Milton said. "We brought it to them."
Liberty attacked off the dribble much better in the rematch. Along with Milton's 21 points, Bailey Russsell had 21 and Ryan Ramirez had 16.
"They're a very athletic team – very long," Falcons coach Wayne Brizzi said. Last game "we were able to keep them from getting in the lane on us and getting that easy shot. … But tonight they just did a great job. They penetrated at will."
The Eagles also navigated Fauquier's full-court man-to-man defense with relative ease. They finished with only 14 turnovers.
"That's great," Frazer said. "The goal was 12, but we've had [games] when we were close to 30. … I was most proud that with their immense pressure, we were able to hold on to the ball."
Not only did Liberty limit mistakes, it scored a lot of points directly from breaking the Falcons' press.
The Eagles' defense, meanwhile, often kept Fauquier from taking shots in the paint. They played zone defense much of the night and the Falcons often acquiesced by shooting 3-pointers.
"We tried to get it inside, but they were packing it in," Brizzi said. "That didn't look like it was working for us."
Shooting 3-pointers didn't work either, though. The Falcons made 4 of 7 3-pointers in the first quarter, but they went 1-for-11 over the second and third quarters and finished the game 9-for-26 (35 percent) despite having plenty of room to attempt most of those shots.
"If you're missing them, you should maybe get something a little easier," Brizzi said. "It would be nice to have little better shots."
"Luckily they missed some shots they normally make," Frazer said.
Fauquier attempted only 23 2-point field goals.
Foul trouble was partly to blame for the Falcons' perimeter-oriented offense. Fauquier post Lareco Robinson committed two fouls midway through the first quarter and picked up his third early in the second period.
"We're up 8-0, he's in and playing well. Then he sits on the bench," Brizzi said. "It makes a big difference. There's no question.
"It just seemed like the clock [was] being stopped a lot [for foul calls] and we kind of lost that momentum," he said.
Robinson finished with only 11 points after having five in the opening 80 seconds of the game. Grant Keithley instead led Fauquier with 18 points thanks to four 3-pointers.
"We did the best we could but, man, he shoots very well against us," Frazer said.
Adding a pair of 3-pointers each were Travis Croson (eight points) and Ardeshir Tabrizzi (six). Robinson had five rebounds while Spicer Sabruno had five assists and two steals.
For Liberty, Bailey Kestner had six rebounds while Ramirez had four rebounds and three assists. Johnson had four steals and his nine assists helped spark Liberty's rally from that 8-0 deficit.
"Hakeem did a great job," Frazer said. "He only had two points, but he controlled the game."
Johnson often found Milton in the open court for layups.
"In transition he was able to … control the basketball," Frazer said of Milton. "He stayed low on his drives tonight. He had moments this year where he dribbles too high. … That's the key with him."
Milton, of course, produced his season-high in scoring despite coming off the bench.
"It's cool to start and all," he said, "but at the end of the day it's not that meaningful."