By Pat Harty
NORTH LIBERTY – Liberty High boys basketball coach Stu Ordman had warned his players about what was coming on Friday.
He prepared them in practice for the speed and quickness of Waterloo West and for the frenetic pace at which the WaHawks like to play.
But it still took some time for the Liberty players to adjust to the real thing.
Waterloo West bolted to a 12-point lead in the first quarter and then spent the rest of the game withstanding Liberty High's comeback attempt, winning 79-69 in the first boys basketball game played at the Liberty High gymnasium.
“The difference was a lot of experience and the first-quarter run when we had not played a team or been able to approximate in practice the speed they have getting up and down the court,” Ordman said of Waterloo West. “So we got down ten early and that was basically the margin.
“But I’m proud of the guys. They kept battling back.”
Liberty High suffered a critical blow when sophomore point guard Isaac Bender injured his ankle in the first quarter and didn’t return. Bender played a key role in Liberty High's victory over Bellevue in the season opener on Monday.
“Bender is extremely valuable to our team,” Ordman said. “When he hurt his ankle in the first quarter, I thought, whoa, this is going to be interesting because he’s our point guard. He did a fantastic job of running the team and knocking down big shots and guarding the other team’s best player on Monday night when we beat Bellevue.
“So I thought guys came in and stepped up their game.”
Andre Brandon, a 6-foot-5 sophomore forward, helped to pick up the scoring slack by scoring 28 points on 11-of-17 shooting from the field. He also made two of Liberty High’s seven 3-point baskets.
“We want to establish his inside game more and then swing him out and see how the matchups go,” Ordman said of his talented sophomore.
Brandon said his experience from playing on the AAU circuit has helped him adjust to varsity competition.
“I’m just used to it,” Brandon said. “In AAU, I’m used to the guys.”
Bender scored the first points in the game on a 3-point basket, but he didn’t score again before being injured.
Waterloo West answered Bender’s early trey with a 15-0 scoring run and led 19-9 after the first quarter.
“We have to play better defense,” Brandon said when asked what the problem was in the first quarter.
Trailing 37-27 at halftime, the Lightning chipped away at the lead in the third quarter, which ended with Waterloo West clinging to a 57-52 lead.
The Lightning twice pulled to within two points in the fourth quarter. Freshman guard Grayson Tyler made two free throws to cut the deficit to 61-59 with 6 minutes, 20 seconds left to play. But Waterloo West answered with five consecutive points and that flurry eventually turned into an 18-8 scoring run to end the game.
Senior forward CaRondis Harris-Anderson led Waterloo West with 23 points, while sophomore guards Nicholas Pepin and Isaiah Johnson scored 18 and 12 points, respectively.
Harris-Anderson had one stretch in which he scored 10 consecutive points from late in the third quarter to early in the fourth quarter.
Freshman guard Bo Gryp led Liberty High with three 3-point baskets and finished with 12 points. Tyler chipped in with nine points and made all four or his free throws.
Liberty High made all but three of its 19 free-throw attempts.
Waterloo West 19 18 20 22 – 79
Liberty High 9 18 25 17 – 69
Waterloo West (79) - Nicholas Pepin 7-12 2-2 18, Isaiah Johnson 6-11 0-0 12, Kalen burt 4-4 1-3 9, CaRondis Harris-Anderson 10-23 2-2 23, Jaden Keller 4-6 0-0 9, Jaquon O’Neal 1-1 0-0 2, ShauRome Taylor 0-1 0-0 0, Antonio Alexander Jr., 1-4 0-1 2. Totals 33-61 5-8.
Liberty High (69) – Isac Bender 1-4 0-0 3, Bo Gryp 3-6 4-4 13, Ethan O’Donnell 2-7 0-1 4, Andre Brandon 11-17 4-6 28, Sam Funke 1-5 2-2 4, Ronnie Williams 1-1 0-0 , Corey Baldwin 1-1 0-0 2, Ben Houselog 0-0 0-0 0, Grayson Tyler 2-2 4-4 9, Kelby Telander 0-1 0-0 0, Moses Bolar 1-1 2-2 4. Totals 23-44 16-19 69.
3-point goals – Waterloo West 4 (Pepin 2, Harris-Anderson, Keller); Liberty High – 7 (Gryp 3, Brandon 2, Bender, Tyler). Fouls – Waterloo West 16, Liberty High 14.