LIBERTY, Mo. — Park Hill continued to make points a premium — a solid strategy while dealing with a few unexpected absences.
With the host Liberty North student section putting on a ‘Silent Night Game,’ there wasn’t a lot of noise during the first quarter. The Trojans opened with a lead and then held on late for a 48-40 win over Liberty North in the Liberty North Invitational championship game Saturday, Dec. 9.
Park Hill repeated as champion in a rematch of last year’s title game, which featured a lot more offense than the most recent meeting at Liberty North High School.
“Without that start, that’s a much, much closer game,” Park Hill junior guard Ryan Graves said. “That start was everything for us and allowed us to win the game in the end. We just tried to not let them hit their 3s. We knew if they got hot, it was going to be a tough game.
“We knew if we kept them off of the 3-point line we would be good.”
A silent night game was made popular by Taylor University — an NAIA school in Upland, Ind. The tradition goes that until the 10th point the student section remains silent before erupting into a frenzy when the number is hit. Liberty North modified the number to five but still didn’t reach the mark until late in the first quarter.
Park Hill started on an 11-2 run, which included a pair of dunks for senior Cecil Lee, and Graves buried a deep 3-pointer at the first quarter buzzer to make it 13-6. Liberty North went into halftime down 25-14.
“The start was amazing,” said Park Hill coach Chad Jones, who took a quick timeout after Liberty North hit five points to once again quiet the crowd. “The guys did an awesome job of locking down the defense. To hold Liberty North to 14 points at halftime is an amazing effort by these young men. That’s what we are right now.
“We’re team that is playing great defense. We have some size on the inside we can pound it into. We really try to control possessions and take care of the basketball.”
Park Hill’s lead hovered around double digits most of the second half, until Liberty North put together a five-point possession to cut the lead to 42-38 with 2:39 left in regulation.
Jalen Perry hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key to pull Liberty North within 42-36 and a foul on Park Hill junior Haden Wallace fighting through a screen in an attempt to close out gave the Eagles a 1-and-1 situation on top of the made shot. James Perry hit both free throws.
Liberty North then went to a full court press and forced a timeout from Jones to avoid a 5-second violation.
“We had a little adversity towards the end,” Jones said. “It was a big call against us. They knocked down two free throws plus a 3, so it was a five-point swing. The kids responded. They picked themselves up off the mat and got the ball in and ran our stuff. They got to the free throw line and were able to finish off the game. To be able to respond to that adversity is a great sign for our team.”
Park Hill senior Mike Engelbert, who finished with seven points, scored on a drive to the basket to push the lead back to six.
Liberty North wouldn’t get within one possession at any point, and Graves provided the final big play to ensure a win. He tracked down a long rebound on a missed 3-pointer and came together with Liberty North’s Tyson Cathy.
Graves took a forearm to the face as the players reached for the loose ball, drawing a foul and then hitting two free throws to make it 46-40.
“You talk about taking a punch and responding. Well, he literally took one,” Jones said. “He took one right in the face. He kept his composure and went down and hit two big free throws to make it a six-point game. It took a lot of guts to step to the line after getting hit in the face and knock those down so a lot of credit to Ryan Graves.”
Wallace finished with a team-high 13 points, hitting another key free throw for Park Hill late. In the final 8 minutes, the Trojans were 8-for-11 from the line, and Liberty North managed just one 3-pointer in the game.
Lee and Graves finished with 10 points apiece.
Park Hill improved to 3-1 overall with three straight wins while playing without projected starting guards Ronnie Bell (injury) and Wily Majok (eligibility). The Trojans started with a loss to North Kansas City but then won all three Liberty North tournament games while holding opponents to just 93 points combined, capped with the upset of the host and top seed.
“That was a crazy game,” Graves said. “It shows how hard our guys compete, how bad we want to win out here. We’re competitors and we want to win. We play together. We’re a very unselfish team this year.”
Park Hill 43, Kearney 27
The Trojans’ defense didn’t allow more than eight points in any quarter during a semifinal win Thursday, Dec. 7 in Liberty, Mo.
Lee scored a team-high 10 points, seven in the first quarter, to help Park Hill build an early lead. Nic Zeil (nine points) and Engelbert (eight points) were next on a balanced scoresheet for the Trojans, who led 25-11 at halftime and held the rest of the way.
Kearney managed just seven field goals total, including five 3-pointers. Both of the Bulldogs’ shots made from the field in the first half were 3s.
Park Hill 42, KC Northeast 26
Lee scored 13 points, and the Trojans used suffocating defense to advance in the first round Tuesday, Dec. 5 in Liberty, Mo.
Northeast scored 10 points in the first quarter and didn’t hit double digits in any of the final three. Lee had seven in the first quarter for Park Hill, and then six different players scored in the second, including a 3-pointer from Graves, to help turn a 10-10 tie into a 22-16 halftime advantage.
Park Hill went 8 of 12 on free throws in the fourth quarter to pull away.