By Rob Potter
LIBERTY February 13, 2007 The James I. O’Neill Raiders got off to a fast start in Friday night’s Orange County Interscholastic Athletic Association (OCIAA) Division IV basketball game against the host Liberty Indians.
O’Neill used excellent outside shooting and easy transition baskets to race out to a 29-12 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Raiders continued their hot outside shooting in the second period and held a 44-26 advantage at halftime.
But O’Neill (7-10, 4-3 Division IV) had to hold off a spirited comeback by Liberty in the second half in order to record an 82-72 victory.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Indians faced an 18-point deficit, 64-46. But they quickly closed that gap.
With 1:58 remaining in the game, senior guard Lakarri Byrd drove to the hoop and scored to bring Liberty to within 10 points at 76-66.
Fifteen seconds later, Liberty’s Andre Brand put back a teammate’s missed shot to make it an eight-point game at 76-68.
But in the next 30 seconds, O’Neill’s Ben Johnson made a free throw and teammate J.R. Downey scored a layup after an Indians’ turnover to push the Raiders’ lead back to double figures at 79-68.
Liberty (4-14, 0-8 Division IV) was able to reduce the advantage once more when Byrd scored inside the lane. The basket made it a 79-70 contest.
With 13.1 seconds displayed on the scoreboard clock, O’Neill’s Matt Gibney went 1-of-2 at the free-throw line to complete the evening’s scoring.
Downey and Robert Dunn keyed the Raiders’ first quarter offensive outburst. Downey swished a pair of 3-point shots and finished those eight minutes of play with nine points. Dunn also knocked down two 3-pointers and netted 12 points in the stanza.
Downey made another pair of 3-pointers later in the contest and finished with a team-high 25 points.
Senior forward Marc Anthony Johnson scored 20 points for O’Neill, while Dunn recorded 13 points.
Byrd finished with a game-high 31 points. Junior guard Devin Williamson recorded 18 points and Brand added 13 points for the Indians.
“They were very intense tonight,” O’Neill Coach Deb Crowe said of her players. “We were very focused. This was the best first half we have played all season. We only had five turnovers in that half.”
Crowe said she was not at all surprised when Liberty rallied in the second half.
“I expected them to come back,” she said. “Lakarri Byrd is a great player and he played well tonight. [Andre] Brand had a couple of nice plays and number 30 [Williamson] did a nice job.”
Crowe noted that she was “very happy” because the win clinched a spot for the Raiders in the upcoming Section IX Class B tournament.
Liberty Coach Dave Slater noted that he was missing two players due to illness. He also said that the Indians were still recovering from the previous night’s five-point loss to Sullivan West in a Division IV game.
“I try not to schedule back-to-back games whenever I can help it,” Slater said. “It’s so tough when you have to play two good teams in two nights.”
But Slater was very pleased with his players, particularly Byrd, whom he noted had “a great game.”
“My kids have a great deal of heart,” he commented. “They play really well together as a team.
“We got down by 17 [points] in the first quarter, but were able to make a comeback.”