By SHANNON DOVE
BLOOMDALE — Sometimes a 17-point halftime lead just isn’t enough.
Austin May scored 32 points and sparked a second-half rally to lead Liberty Benton to a 58-56 nonleague victory Saturday at Elmwood.
“Austin May put us on his shoulders again,” Eagles coach Ben Gerken said. “He got to the lane and made some baskets, and made some huge threes that got us back into it and we built a little momentum.”
Liberty Benton regained the lead for the first time since early in the first quarter at 5:23 of the fourth when Mehkei Jenkins converted a one-and-one and took the lead for good 50-48 on Michael Kotey’s trey at 4:12. May scored 10 points in the quarter, including a pair of 3-pointers.
“The May kid is unbelievable,” Elmwood coach Ty Traxler said. “He obviously put them on his back which he’s been trying to do all year.
“We missed some crucial free throws down the stretch that would have kept it a one possession game, and (May) made everything he put up.”
Liberty Benton extended the lead to six points 58-52, but with just five seconds remaining in the game Matthew Cline hit a 3-pointer and drew the foul, but missed the free throw, keeping the score 58-55. Zach Weiss earned a trip to the free throw line with 2.2 seconds remaining. He made the first shot but missed the second and the Royals got the rebound with a chance to inbound the ball with 0.5 seconds left. They got the ball to Weiss under the hoop but he was unable to get the shot up and the Eagles held on for a narrow 2-point win.
The Eagles’ second half rally started with defense: Elmwood had just two turnovers in the first half but seven in the third quarter alone. Liberty Benton began to cut into the Royals lead; during a 12-second stretch with 3:00 left on the clock May canned a 3-pointer, Elmwood turned over the ball, then Josh Reindel converted a field goal, bringing LB within nine points for the first time since the second quarter at 39-30.
Liberty Benton closed out the third quarter with a 3-point play by May and a fast break layup by Jake Reindel after an Elmwood turnover, all in the final seven seconds, to pull within four points 43-39.
“I hate to simplify things,” Traxler said. “But that’s the only thing we talked about at halftime: the only way Liberty Benton’s got a shot to get back in this is to create some chaos, make us turn the ball over and start their offense with their defense “” which they’re good at doing “” and we let them do it.”
With the Eagles up 5-4 midway through the first quarter, Elmwood went on an 11-0 run to grab a 15-5 lead before May hit a trey with one second left on the clock to close the first quarter 15-8. Cline scored from beyond the arc to spark the Royals run while Casey Snow and Mason Lentz also contributed 3-pointers. May scored all eight of Liberty Benton’s points in the quarter.
“We weren’t executing on the offensive end,” Gerken said. “We were forcing some shots, so I challenged some of the guys to make good decisions. We have to be able to stay within the flow of our offense and I think we got out of that in the first half.
“Give coach Traxler a ton of credit: his kids do an excellent job of execution and they made a lot of plays early on to build that lead.”
May was the only Eagles player in double figures and led the team with six rebounds. Jenkins paced LB with five assists and two steals.
Weiss led the Royals with 22 points and six boards while Cline also had six rebounds to go with 18 points. Johnathan Duvall dished out seven assists and had four steals.
LIBERTY BENTON (5-14)
Jenkins 1-2–4, Kotey 2-0–5, Poling 1-3–5, May 11-5–32, Schroeder 0-0–0, Dillon 0-0–0, Jo. Reindel 2-2–6, Alexander 1-0–2, Ja. Reindel 2-0–4, Mattingly 0-0–0. TOTALS: 20-53 12-17–58.
Jon. Childress 0-0–0, Duvall 0-0–0, Snow 1-0–3, Lentz 3-0–8, Jos. Childress 0-0–0, Cline 8-0–18, Stearns 1-1–3, Weiss 7-6–22, Reinhard 1-0–2. TOTALS: 21-60 7-12–56.
Liberty-Benton 8 7 24 19 — 58
Elmwood 15 17 11 13 — 56
3-POINT GOALS: Liberty Benton 6-9 (May 5, Kotey); Elmwood 7-17 (Weiss 2, Cline 2, Lentz 2, Snow).
REBOUNDING: Liberty Benton 16 (May 6); Elmwood 22 (Cline 6, Weiss 6).
TURNOVERS: Liberty Benton 12; Elmwood 13.
JUNIOR VARSITY: Liberty Benton, 50-32.