LIBERTY - Going into Friday night, Liberty hadn't seen a 1-3-1 zone from an opposing team. So when Lakeview employed it against them, the Leopards had to learn on the fly.
By the second half, Liberty learned enough about the unique zone and managed to break it down in the Leopards' 55-51 at home Friday night.
Liberty discovered how to beat the zone in the third quarter, when the Leopards (5-3, 1-1 All-American Conference, National Division) went 7 of 11 from the field and dropped 20 points on the Bulldogs (1-6, 0-2). The Leopards created high percentage shots by passing their way aroun d the zone.
"We moved the ball a little better (in the second half)," Liberty coach Dan Bubon said. "When we move the ball side to side against the zone, it made it move. We had a lot of opportunities inside. There were a lot of gaps."
It was a vast improvement from the first half, when the Leopards shot 23 percent in the first quarter and went 9 of 28 for the entire first half.
The Leopards shot five 3-pointers in the first half, making one, and Bubon said he didn't like the offense his team ran.
"The problem is that we get impatient a lot," Bubon said. "We keep the ball to just one side of the court, and that allows the zone to just sit in and really wait for us. So, when we moved (the zone), we played well. When we didn't, we usually turned it over."
Although Liberty eventually figured out the zone, the Bulldogs kept D.J. Hight in check.
The senior forward recorded two baskets in the game and 10 points, but while he struggled, the rest of the team picked up the offensive slack. Along with Hight, three other players managed to break double figures, including Asim Pleas Jr. with a game-high 13 points.
"D.J.'s presence is always felt," Pleas Jr. said. "When he gets taken out of the game, our guards and other people around him have to step up big. Even though they were in a 1-3-1 zone, everybody has to crash and try and get rebounds and work hard."
Both teams turned the ball over a lot, usually in spurts.
On three separate occasions, the Bulldogs and Leopards turned the ball over on at least three combined possessions, including a stretch in the final two minutes of the third quarter with five consecutive turnovers. Bubon said he expected the sloppy play.
"You got what you got," Bubon said. "I would venture to say that most of the games played tonight were exactly the same as this - ugly, sloppy, choppy, no good flow to it... That's what the holiday break does. You talk to any high school coach, and it's tough to stay in a flow over the holidays."
As for Lakeview, coach Craig Mild said his team played better than it had recently, but he pointed to the defensive rebounding as a cause of concern. Liberty grabbed 11 offensive rebounds.
"The big (problem) for us was the weak-side rebounding," Mild said. "(The Leopards) got a couple of opportunities down the floor where they got three or four shots, and that was kind of the difference in the game. We did what we wanted to do, but our weak-side rebounding was not what we needed it to be."