Lineup changes lift Liberty

Special to Tribune Chronicle / Dianna Oatridge Dra Rushton (1) of Liberty tries to get past Mathews defender Luke Culp Wednesday night during the Leopards’ 73-66 win over the Mustangs.

LIBERTY — A new strategy by Liberty coach Chris Kohl paid off, as the Leopards got their first home win of the season Wednesday night.

Kohl hinted last week that he may be doing some lineup shifting. No one thought that the new starting lineup wouldn’t feature leading scorer Dra Rushton, but that’s exactly what Kohl had in mind.

“We tried a little different lineup today. It worked as we played very good team basketball,” Kohl said.

Once Rushton got on the floor, the game changed, and Rushton was absolutely unstoppable. He scored 32 points, grabbed six rebounds and had three assists in a 73-66 victory over Mathews. The victory broke a four-game losing streak for the Leopards (2-6).

“My guys came up big tonight. We’ve been going through a rough time here. To get our first home win, I just love it. We practice hard, and I’m just so happy for everyone,” Rushton said.

Special to Tribune Chronicle / Dianna Oatridge Sean McDivitt, left, of Mathews drives to the basket against Liberty defender Kevin Code.

Mathews (2-6) got off to a great start. Sean McDivitt scored 14 of his team-high 28 points in the first quarter helping Mathews to a 23-14 lead after one. McDivitt was on fire, nailing four 3-pointers in the quarter.

“McDivitt was hitting everything. He’s a good player. After the first quarter, we made some defensive adjustments. It worked and the defense did a really nice job,” Kohl said.

Liberty had an answer in the second. They outscored Mathews 20-13, but still trailed 36-34 at the half.

“Our set plays were working in the beginning. We hit three 3s off plays we work on in practice,” Mathews coach Mike Weymer said. “As the game wore on, they took us out of our rhythm. Liberty turned on the pressure defensively, and we couldn’t get the shots we wanted anymore.

A couple quick layups by Rushton to start the third gave Liberty a 40-38 advantage. Rushton hit two 3s and Liberty went on a 20-5 run from which Mathews could not recover.

Special to Tribune Chronicle / Dianna Oatridge Tanner Hunt, left, of Mathews drives to the basket against Liberty defender Travis Myers.

“A player like Dra can will the game in his direction,” Kohl said. “You know he’s a football star here as well. I think he’s still transitioning from football to basketball mode. He’s getting better every day, and so is everyone else.

With five minutes left in the game, Rushton had another highlight. A beautiful one hand fake towards the hoop was followed by a perfect assist to teammate Ezell Brown, to give Liberty a 64-55 lead.

Brown finished with 17 points and six rebounds, helping his team get the win.

“Brown plays really well for us. He plays with determination. We played a complete basketball game tonight. Four good quarters and we shot the ball well,” Kohl said.

Liberty held off a late surge by Mathews as McDivitt and Tanner Hunt, who finished with 12 points, were doing everything they could to keep Mathews close. Ryan Gates added 10 points for the Mustangs.

“We barely missed some shots down the stretch. If those shots fall, it might be a different story. We can’t give up 73 and expect to win. The game has to be in the 50’s for us to get a W because we struggle defensively,” Weymer said.