Cool, calm and collected
BROOKFIELD – JaShaun Whitman was oblivious to the sounds inside the Brookfield High School gym during Liberty’s 68-62 overtime victory.
He had his moments of zen at the free-throw line, a place where the rest of his team struggled.
“I sit there, meditate a couple of seconds before I shoot and concentrate – me and the rim,” said Whitman, who made 6 of 6 from the line to help Liberty overcome a woeful free-throw shooting performance (26 of 42). “I just shoot it.”
Liberty improved to 10-6, while Brookfield dropped to 9-6.
Liberty’s Lynn Bowden scored two of his 24 points early in the fourth quarter as the Leopards, who shot 20 of 40 from the floor, held on to a 45-30 lead.
From there, Brookfield went on a 20-5 run. Nate Johnson, who had 14 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, drove around Liberty’s Dan Markulin on what ended up being a 3-point play – cutting the Liberty lead to 50-48 with 1:46 remaining in regulation.
Johnson’s bucket with 12.5 seconds left tied the game at 57.
Brookfield’s pressure defense forced four steals in the fourth quarter. Brian Hiner had three of them. It helped in the Warriors’ fourth-quarter surge.
“It really helped us come back. I’m proud of my kids. They didn’t quit, ever,” said Brookfield coach Bill Kovach, whose team lost its third overtime game this season.
Johnson, who was playing with four fouls, tried to get another steal off of Bowden. Instead, Johnson fouled the Liberty freshman at midcourt. Bowden, who uncharacteristically was 9 of 16 from the line, missed both free throws and Brookfield set up for one last play.
Jamar Tarver, who had 10 points, let a 3-pointer fly from the right corner, only for it to glance off the side of the rim – sending the game to an extra session.
“Every close game we’ve been in this year, we’ve done a good job making free throws at the end,” said Liberty coach Dan Bubon, whose team shot 8 of 18 from the foul line in the fourth quarter. “And Lynn has been one of the best I’ve ever had. He’s had some games where he’s went 9 for 10 in the fourth quarter.
“He missed a few tonight. They all looked good, some rattling in and out. It’s going to happen. It happens in the NBA, guys are going to miss. You have to play through.”
Liberty began overtime with two Whitman free throws, putting Brookfield up 59-57.
Brookfield’s Caleb Hunkus drove the lane and tied the game at 62.
Then, Asim Pleas, who had a game-high 25 points, made his way into the lane for a putback and a bucket. Pleas, who was 11 of 18 from the charity stripe, was fouled and completed the 3-point play for the go-ahead points. Pleas has 947 points in his career.
Saturday’s atmosphere had a tournament-like feel to it.
“It’s good to be in these games because I feel you learn from them,” Kovach said. “If it’s one side or the other, sometimes you don’t have that pressure. The tournament is all about performing under pressure.”
Davon Sims added 13 for the Warriors, which travels Tuesday to LaBrae.
When you talk about postseason, shooting from the free-throw line goes hand-in-hand. Whitman picked up the slack for an injured Cameron Clark, who rolled his ankle in Friday’s loss at Jefferson and didn’t play Saturday. Whitman had 12 points.
This comes from a player who couldn’t even hit the rim on a free throw a year ago. Saturday, he made 4 of 4 in overtime.
“I singled him out in the locker room because last year he had one of the worst shots I’ve ever seen. He would shoot air balls from the foul line,” said Bubon, whose team hosts Niles on Tuesday. “That kid has been working hard on developing his shot. They all look good when he shoots.
“Those are huge. We probably wouldn’t have won without him.”