OTTOVILLE — Liberty-Benton took an early lead, and despite Ottoville’s best efforts to take it away, never gave it back in a 56-51 win in a match-up of state-ranked girls basketball teams Tuesday night.
Liberty-Benton (20-1, No. 7 Division III) led all but the first five minutes of the game over Ottoville (19-2, No. 2 Division IV).
The Eagles led by as many as 12 points early in the third quarter before Ottoville battled back to within two points, 53-51, with 2 ½ minutes left in the game. But that was as close as it got.
“It is always better in a game like that to be playing with a lead and we were fortunate to have a lead. It makes things a little easier because they definitely battled right back,” Liberty-Benton coach Nate Irwin said.
Point guard Savanah Richards led Liberty-Benton with 20 points, the majority of them coming on drives to the basket. Schy Shepherd had 13 points and 6-foot, 3-inch post player Caitlin Elseser had 8 points while battling foul trouble much of the night.
C.J. Kemper led Ottoville with 15 points. Kasey Knippen had 14 points, 10 of them in the second half, and Bridget Landin scored 13 points and had 10 rebounds.
The crucial stretch of the game might have been when Liberty-Benton hit three 3-pointers in the last 1:18 of the second quarter to take a 31-20 lead at halftime.
Ottoville, which had made up all but two points of an eight-point Liberty-Benton lead after falling behind 22-14 with three and a half minutes left in the first half, saw its momentum stalled by those threes.
Alissa Rhodes hit the first 3-pointer with 1:18 to go in the second quarter. That was followed by a three by Alexa Lenhart with 50 seconds to go until halftime, and then Lenhart hit another three on Liberty-Benton’s next possession.
“That was huge. We were in some foul trouble. We had Caitlin Elsaser and Schy Shepherd on the bench and we made a run with them on the bench. That doesn’t usually happen. We had two girls step up when we had two key players on the bench,” Irwin said.
Ottoville coach Dave Kleman said those three triples, along with a 3-pointer that Sammy Shardo banked in 37 seconds into the second half, were big factor’s in the game.
“We were trying to help too much (on defense). We didn’t keep our defensive assignments and they got a couple threes. We didn’t adhere to the defensive principles we wanted for this game and it cost us,” he said.
“Their guards are very, very quick and very good. They all can handle the ball, they’re hard to stop. We just didn’t hit enough shots tonight. We played well enough to win but you can’t have breakdowns like we did against the three-point shooters,” he said.
Ottoville shot just 30 percent (6 of 20) on field goals in the first half, hit 9 of 14 in the third quarter, but then dropped off to 4 of 11 in the fourth quarter. Liberty-Benton shot 51 percent overall (21 of 41).
“It was just two good teams, scratching and clawing and trying to do the best they can. We want to schedule good teams. This was a really good tune-up for the tournament,” Kleman said. “We didn’t make the shots at the end but we got the shots we wanted and I was happy we had the courage to take the shots. They just didn’t drop for us.”
Irwin said, “This is a great game this time of the year heading into the tournament. A non-league game, neither team has anything to lose. You had two teams hoping for a long tournament run.”
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.