Justin Huey scored 26 points and West Muskingum (2-2, 1-2) pushed the tempo in a 69-61 nonleague win against Liberty Union (1-4, 1-1) on Monday. It was the second consecutive win for West M.
The Tornadoes played a full-court press for much of the game and looked to push the ball up court after each Lions’ missed shot. The result was a number of transition opportunities for Huey, who put up 22 points by halftime on 10-for-14 shooting to pace West Muskingum to a 40-35 lead.
“Justin came out and was really aggressive with the ball,” Tornadoes coach Bill Crane said. “His legs got a little tired; he’s fighting the flu bug a little bit, so we knew we needed to ride him early.”
Huey scored nine of his team’s first 11 points to help keep pace with the hot-shooting Lions. The Tornadoes took a 21-18 lead after the first quarter with two of Liberty Union’s starters — junior Austin Vannatta and senior Greg Underwood — on the bench with two fouls each.
West Muskingum stretched its lead to as many as seven in the second quarter, but the Lions were able to keep the game close with their 3-point shooting. Liberty Union hit 6-of-11 from behind the arc in the first half.
“They way they were hitting from the outside, Huey was able to keep us in the game,” Crane said. “They were making us play help-side in the first half and they were kicking it to the corner.”
The Lions came out strong after the break, using a 7-2 run to tie the game at 42. It was the first time the teams had been even since the score was tied at 13.
Both teams scored on their next two possessions before the Tornadoes put together a 9-0 run. A Vannatta layup and Brandon Compton free throws brought the West Muskingum advantage to 55-50 entering the fourth.
Liberty Union was able to keep the game close, in large part, because of their ability to slow down a fatigued Huey by forcing the left-hander to go to his right. He had just four points after the break.
Despite slowing down the Tornadoes’ leading scorer, the Lions were not able to get enough of their own shots to fall in a back-and-fourth final period. Liberty Union missed all seven of their 3-point attempts in the second half.
“The game boiled down to the second half, they made some shots and we didn’t,” Lecrone said. “Whether that’s legs or what, I thought we were in pretty good shape, but this is the first game that we have been in at this pace.”
The Lions were lead by Zac Biggie’s 15 points, while Vannatta and Compton joined him in double figures with 14 and 11, respectively.
The game, initially scheduled as the Nov. 30 season opener but rescheduled because of Liberty Union’s run to the football state semifinals, did not tip off until 8:45 p.m. The start was delayed by a junior varsity game that went until nearly 8 p.m. and the Lions’ pregame parent-night activities.
Lecrone said the close defeat has become a theme for his team.
“The four games we’ve lost have all been right there,” he said. “A play here or a play there and we are on the other side of the ledger.”