SALINA – After facing a barrage of three-point shots to open the ballgame, the Abilene Cowboys used an explosive second half offense and a swarming defense to power past the Liberal Redskins 75-55 in the opening round of the Salina Invitational Tournament Thursday evening in Salina.
The Redskins (5-5) opened with back-to-back-to-back three balls to take an early 9-6 lead against the Cowboys. Travis Beetch got the Abilene offense rolling with two out of three free throws followed by a powerful layup off an Kieryan Anderson assist and he added another jumper to bring the Cowboys within two with just under three minutes remaining in the opening period.
Cowboy junior Avery Bryson tied the game at 14-14 with a basket at the 2:20 mark before Liberal’s Braxton Hyde sunk his third trey of the period to go up 17-14. Beetch answered back with back-to-back threes of his own to spark Abilene up 20-17.
The Redskins shot in a pair of free throws and then had a buzzer beating layup to lead 21-20 after one. Beetch and sophomore Kaleb Becker pushed the Cowboy lead to 25-21 to open the second quarter. Following another Hyde three, junior Josh Stuber sunk a shot for a 27-24 Abilene advantage. Liberal went on a 6-1 spree to end the half and take a two point 32-30 lead to the locker room.
The second half belonged to the Cowboys on this night as Abilene pounded the Redskins 24-10 in the third quarter. Becker, Beetch and Bryson all scored to send Abilene up 40-34. Following a Liberal time out, the Cowboys got a couple threes of their won from Becker and junior Blaise McVan. When McVan’s shot found the net, the Cowboys led 52-36 with under a minute in the period.
“I think defensively we were better in the second half,” Abilene head coach Terry Taylor said. “We were man to man. We found their two shooters. You know with 40 seconds to go in the third quarter they only had four points. Then they made back-to-back threes there right before the buzzer.”
Liberal senior Hunter Hatcher answered with back-to-back treys to bring the Redskins within 12 at 54-42 going to the fourth.
“Offensively we finished tonight,” Taylor said. “We made some layups and had a few free throws. Our depth was a little bit of a factor tonight. We kept running some fresh people in. Very proud of our effort tonight. Our kids played hard for four quarters.
“Avery had some big rebounds for us tonight. Travis was sick and I didn’t know what we were going to get out of him. Obviously he played pretty well again. That makes three games in a row with 20 plus points. Blaise McVan, he is one of our better shooters. We’ve known that. We see it in practice. Today, he relaxed and got a couple to fall. That was big for us. It feels really good for him now to have some confidence moving forward.”
McVan opened the Cowboy fourth with his second three of the game and over the next five minutes Abilene ran off a 14-0 run to go up 71-45 with a minute and a half remaining in the game. During that stretch, junior big man Grant Heintz shot in three nice buckets in the paint. Kaden Coup came off the bench to hit a free throw and sunk two buckets including a three to put Abilene up 73-48. Senior Adam Davis ended the Cowboy scoring with a pair of free throws with 11.9 showing on the clock.
Beetch led all scorers with 26 points while Becker ended with 12 and Bryson had nine. Coup, McVan and Heintz all finished with six points.
Hatcher finished with 14 and Hyde ended with 12 to lead Liberal. They had eight threes between the two of them for the Redskins.
With the win the Cowboys (5-3) will play Andover in the 4:30 p.m. game at Maybe Arena on the campus of Kansas Wesleyan University Friday.
“I told the kids two things in the locker room,” Taylor said. “First we get to play in Kansas Wesleyan but the bad news is we will be playing a really good team. I know there will be three really good teams on that side of the bracket; hopefully there will be four. We will see tomorrow. We haven’t played there in a couple of years. It’s a nice arena and it will be fun for the kids.”
Contact Ron Preston at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Abilene 75, Liberal 55
Liberal 21 11 10 13 – 55
Abilene 20 10 24 21 – 75
Liberal (5-6) – Wiltshire 6, McCarter 6, Lopez 9, L. Hatcher 4, Hyde 12, H. Hatcher 14, Williams 2, Ramirez 2. Totals: 11 (9) 6-13 55.
Abilene (5-3) – Coup 6, Stuber 4, McVan 6, Bryson 9, Beetch 26, Becker 12, Davis 2, Heintz 6, Anderson 4. Totals: 22(6) 13-24 75.