Pleas has career night to lead Liberty past Girard

LIBERTY – Whether it was ice buckets, Tylenol or a really good bottle of Neosporin, the wear and tear of football season was finally gone for Asim Pleas.

The Liberty senior was a two-way starter on the Leopards football team, and the quarterback took quite a few hits during Liberty’s run to the playoffs. He delivered a few of his own as a safety on defense. The combination led to a banged up Pleas as basketball season neared.

It appears he’s all better now, and at just the right time for the Leopards.

Pleas scored a career-high 31 points – 22 in the first half – and was the catalyst of a multi-faceted Liberty offense during the Leopards’ 87-67 rout of crosstown rival Girard on Friday.

Pleas finished 10 of 15 from the floor and dominated during a first half in which Liberty (1-1) took a 42-39 lead. More importantly, the 6-foot-2 guard said he felt like himself for the first time in a while.

“I was feeling healthy for the first time in a long time,” Pleas said. “I got my legs back after a long football season, so that contributed a lot. I’m just starting to get my legs back under me. I feel completely healthy.”

Liberty took a 10-point first-quarter lead and never allowed Girard (1-2, 1-0 All-American Conference, National Division) to move closer than nine. Pleas’ ability to finish contested layups, post up down low and hit mid-range jump shots pushed Liberty to a double-digit lead.

The Indians showed signs of a possible comeback at the outset of the second half. They double-teamed Pleas and forced a pair of turnovers in the process, cutting the lead to 42-33, but that’s when the Leopards’ supporting cast showed up. Cameron Clark, Markell Thompson and JaShaun Whitman all scored key buckets, and Pleas added seven third-quarter points to spark a Liberty run that doomed Girard.

“We just couldn’t stop him,” Girard coach Craig Hannon said of Pleas. “He got out in transition, made a few easy ones, and everything started to fall for him from there.

“And they had some guys that we didn’t think would make the ones they did, so give them credit. But we didn’t stop them in transition, not a lick. That’s just bad defense.”

The Leopards were coming off an embarrassing 65-36 loss to Poland in their opener. Liberty coach Dan Bubon said it was tough to prepare for the Bulldogs because he didn’t have much of a scouting report on them. That wasn’t the case against Girard.

“We have a very cerebral group of kids,” Bubon said. “And this was the first time we got to scout somebody and watch them on film. When they came out, they knew (what to expect). They’re telling each other, ‘OK, this kid does this. This kid does this. This is what we need to do.’ I love how we prepared mentally for this as far as our matchups and how to play them. (Girard’s) Dylan O’Hara, who is probably the best shooter in the area, we knew we couldn’t let him get any open looks, and he had two points.”

Pleas also talked about the gameplan against Girard as a key contributor to Liberty’s success. He said the Leopards wanted to used their speed and athleticism in the open floor to take advantage of transition opportunities.

“I tried to make the best of those: trying to catch them sleeping getting back on defense,” Pleas said. “And it was very important for (other players) to step up. Lynn (Bowden) did a good job, Cameron Clark did a good job. I was looking for them to contribute like they always do.”

Bowden, a star freshman running back on the Leopards’ football team, contributed 19 points for Liberty. Clark registered 16.

Jimmy Standohar paced the Indians with 19 points. Deonte Brown registered 18, and Evan Standohar added 14.