LIBERTY - John Helms Jr. received the nod from Liberty coach Dan Bubon with 29 seconds remaining.
The 5-foot-9 senior point guard stood alone at the foul line - no one standing in the lane. Helms was shooting two foul shots after a Struthers technical.
He shook off any trepidation he may have been harboring and promptly sunk two shots, giving the Leopards a four-point edge.
Helms sunk two more free throws. Then, back-to-back steals and buckets by D.J. Hight helped Liberty pull away from the Wildcats Friday, 71-60.
"The past two games before this, I've been bad with free throws," Helms said. "I was in practice and kept shooting a lot of free throws to get my rhythm down pat. When coach came over to me and told me I was shooting them (technical free throws), I had it in my head that I was going to make them."
Struthers' Tommy Kimbrough, who had a game-high 21 points, had it in his head that he was going to tie the game at 62 with 29 seconds left. He was called for travelling and slammed the ball to the ground after the officials' whistle, constituting the aforementioned technical.
"Tommy is a great kid, but he's so emotional," Struthers coach Joe Savko said. "He wears his heart on his sleeve and everybody knows it. He means well all the time. He's always playing hard, but sometimes he lets that get to him. He wanted to get a bucket there to get it back even.
"He was more mad at himself than anyone else there."
Liberty held a 62-60 advantage with 37 seconds remaining. D.J. Height tried to drive the lane, but it soon collapsed around him and Height was called for travelling.
"I think he saw something that wasn't there," Liberty coach Dan Bubon said. "I think he saw an opening, but I don't think he saw how fast it was going to close. I didn't think he travelled. I think it was a blocked charge, could've went 50-50 either way.
"What are you going to do? We'll work and get better at it."
Liberty, which advanced to the second round of the Division IV football playoffs, has struggled to find practice time together on the hardwood.
Bubon said his team has only had two practices when everybody has been there.
"I think when we have practices when everybody is there, we can do more, rotate more and run more stuff," Helms said.
Liberty held a 33-27 lead at halftime, but Struthers slowed down the speedy Leopards to eventually take a 50-46 lead on Ray'Quan Phifer's 3 early in the fourth quarter.
"Fortunately in the second half, we figured some things out and slowed the pace down in the second half and got back in the game," Savko said.
Struthers' David Stewart had 13 points.
Liberty's Darrien Unnderwood paced the Leopards with 19 points and 12 rebounds, while Cameron Clark and Asim Pleas Jr. each had 13 points.
As for Helms, he had 11 points and was 4 of 4 from the line. And, as Bubon said, embracing his role as the team's point guard - especially shooting free throws.
"Last year he was good and bad," Bubon said. "He can get very emotional at times. We've really worked to calm that down and be a leader because he really wasn't a point guard last year. He's taking that role to heart and he's getting better at it."