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Smith’s 24 rebounds, Turner’s 21 points lead Liberty girls basketball over Eastern View

Thursday, Jan. 16 | By Jeff Malmgren
Kiana Smith pulled down 24 rebounds during Liberty's 46-43 win over Eastern View on Thursday in Culpeper. --Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
It looked like Liberty had hung a bug zapper from the rim of Eastern View's basketball hoop.

Shot after shot after shot died in front of that rim with Liberty's 6-foot-5 center, Kiana Smith, doing the zapping. And Eastern View's girls couldn't resist continually escorting the ball to that death trap.

Smith finished Thursday with seven blocks, twice as many altered shots and 24 rebounds – many directly off her blocks – to help the Eagles beat Eastern View, 46-43, on the road in Culpeper.

"She really just came alive for us," Liberty coach Ashton Girolmo said. "The last couple games we were missing that shot blocker, but tonight she really proved herself. … Even if she didn't block it, there's a good chance she made you think twice about it."

Smith's final block came with 21 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Liberty senior India Turner had just given the Eagles a 44-43 lead with a long, closely-contested jump shot. But the Cyclones got one final possession with a chance to win the game.

Rather than settle for a jump shot, Eastern View's Jazmyn Minor drove along the baseline toward Smith. The Liberty center stood tall and deflected the ball into the hands of teammate Lizzy Berger. Ashley Lane then sealed the Eagles' victory by making a pair of free throws with 1.7 seconds left on the clock.

The win was Liberty's sixth consecutive and improved the Eagles' record to 7-3 overall and 2-2 in Conference 22. Meanwhile, Eastern View fell to 5-8 overall and 2-4 in conference.

The Eagles began the season by losing three of their first four games, but they have since morphed into a different team.

"We've been taking steroids," Turner said with a laugh. "Just kidding. … It's our defense. We've been coming out with that intensity. … We're starting to click together."

"It takes a little bit of time to get everyone back on the same page and basketball-minded," Girolmo said of her players transitioning from the fall sports season. "Our endurance has picked up, and the kids have been working a lot on individual skills."

The Cyclones trailed Liberty, 36-28, midway through the fourth quarter before they finally decided to shoot from the outside rather than challenge Smith in the paint. That's when they rallied.

Sadajae Clark scored nine of her team-high 11 points during the final four minutes of the fourth quarter. She made three consecutive 3-pointers to give Eastern View a 41-40 lead with 2 minutes, 15 seconds remaining.

"We played terrible defense against her," Girolmo said. "We knew coming in she was a shooter, but for some reason we decided to double [team driving players] instead of staying on her."

Turner countered for Liberty, though, with an aggressiveness she hadn't shown earlier in the game because her jump shot had been such a great weapon.

After Clark's third 3-pointer gave the Cyclones a lead, Turner made a driving layup to put Liberty up, 42-41. Eastern View took the lead again on a Lauren Brewer driving layup, so Girolmo called a timeout.

The Liberty coach drew up a play for Turner, who ended up running off a screen and receiving a pass about 17 feet from the basket on the right wing. She instantly elevated for a jump shot with a defender in her face.

"She nailed it," Girolmo said. "For the past couple games, she's been shooting over 50 percent. It is absolutely wonderful, especially right there at the end when we needed to take the lead."

Turner finished with a game-high 21 points on 10-for-14 shooting, mostly long jumpers.

"I have this rhythm in my head every time I shoot that I sound out to myself," Turner said. " I get my feet set. I just focus."

Turner also added seven rebounds, three blocks, two steals and two assists, while Lane had seven points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals. Keyanna Gibson added eight points and five rebounds, while Berger had eight rebounds and five steals.

For Eastern View, Brewer had nine points, five rebounds, three steals and two assists, while Minor had eight points, five rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks. TaNae Holmes added five points and two assists, steals and blocks.

Liberty out-rebounded the Cyclones 54-27, including a 14-4 margin in the third quarter, when the Eagles turned a 20-19 halftime deficit into a 31-26 lead.

"I told the girls coming into the game that it was going to be very important for us to control the boards," Girolmo said.

Smith, of course, had a lot to do with Liberty's success in that area, and not just on the defensive end. She had 10 offensive rebounds, which helped her finish with eight points.

"She doesn't realize how good she is," Turner said of Smith. "All of her blocks, and every little rebound, that is a huge component of our game."

"Sometimes in the game I kind of forget how much of a force I can be," Smith said. "But luckily I have them there to remind me."

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