By Ted Waddell
MONTICELLO While Monday night’s non-league basketball game between the host Monticello Panthers and the Liberty Indians kicked off on a helter skelter note, the second half rapidly turned into a proverbial barnburner as both teams turned up the heat and the outcome was decided in overtime.
At the final buzzer in regular play, the game was tied at 57-57. But then the Panthers clawed their way to a 64-61 win in front of hundreds of screaming fans.
In a bit of a break from the traditional high school basketball ball format of playing four eight-minute quarters, the game was played in two 16-minute halves. It was a move that seemed to speed up the flow of the game and gave the players a taste of collegiate basketball competition, which features two 20-minute halves.
With 2:55 remaining in the opening half, Monticello’s Jesse Kapito made a 3-point shot to give the Panthers a 21-14 lead.
Monticello (4-5) held a 27-19 advantage at halftime.
Early in the second half, Liberty’s DaShawn Williamson nailed a 3-pointer, shaving the home team’s advantage to 27-25.
Kapito replied with another successful shot from beyond the 19-foot, 9-inch arc to put the Panthers up 30-25. But moments later, Liberty (1-8) took a 33-30 lead.
With 8:56 remaining, Kapito made another 3-point shot to put the Panthers up 37-35.
As the game clocked ticked down in regulation play, Liberty was up 53-47. But with less than a minute remaining, Monticello’s Briar Patterson scored to narrow the Indians’ lead to 53-49.
With 26 seconds left, Liberty’s Ivan Rivera was intentionally fouled. But the defensive ploy misfired as he made both shots, putting the Indians up, 56-51.
Not to be outdone at the free- throw line, Monticello’s Frank Small made a pair of foul shots to bring his team within three at 56-53.
In the wake of another successful Liberty free throw, Shamell Moore went 2-for-2 at the line to make it a 57-55 game.
With just a few seconds remaining, Kapito fired a pass downcourt to Moore, who was fouled as he went up for a basket. Moore then calmly made both free throws to send the game into OT.
Liberty went out ahead in the extra stanza, but the proverbial wind had apparently been taken out of their sails when the Panthers came from behind to force the game into extra minutes.
With 25 seconds remaining in the four-minute OT, Austin Billig scored on a fadeaway jumper. Soon thereafter, Moore made a free throw to seal the Panthers’ three-point win.
Kapito, who made four 3-pointers on the evening, and Moore each finished the night with 14 points. Patterson and Small added 12 points and 11 points, respectively, for the Panthers.
For Liberty, Williamson netted a game-high 19 points, Connor Hinton had 15 points, Chris Lake scored 12 points and Ivan Rivera added 10 points.
Monticello went 14-of-19 (74 percent) at the free-throw line, while Liberty was 10-of-24 (42 percent) at the line.
“It was a great game to be part of, it was a hard fought game,” said Liberty Coach Jason Semo, who is in his second year of guiding the Indians.
“You hate to see somebody come out on the low end, especially when it’s your kids,” Semo added. “In games like this you’ve got to rebound and make your foul shots, and we didn’t take advantage of the lead when we had it.
“We played with intensity, now we have to play with poise. It’s a two-part deal,” he concluded.
Monticello Coach Chris Russo is in his first year of leading the Panthers.
“Games don’t come any better than this,” he said. “Both teams deserved to win the game, [and] fortunately enough we won it.”