Liverpool guard Kyle Butler (3) soars on a drive to the basket during Friday night's game against Henninger. Butler had 10 points in the Warriors' 83-81, double-overtime victory over the Black Knights.
One star player left early with an injury. Another had a 20-minute scoring drought. Another fouled out late in regulation.
In other words, plenty went wrong for the Liverpool boys basketball team in Friday night’s instant classic against Henninger, all of which could have sent the state Class AA no. 7-ranked Warriors to its first defeat of the season after a 12-0 start.
And yet Liverpool emerged with an 83-81, double-overtime victory over the Black Knights, its perfect mark intact along with the knowledge that it can overcome serious adversity and come out on top.
“This is what great teams do,” said Warriors head coach Ryan Blackwell. “These guys had to step up and make plays.”
Mostly, it was the likes of 6-foot-4 senior forward Alan Willmes Jr. making plays as he poured in 31 points, by far the highest total of his career, and every one of those points was needed.
That was because Henninger hardly resembled the side the Warriors routed 88-65 one month ago or beat handily in last year’s Section III final, especially after the Black Knights weathered a 15-0 Liverpool run in the early stages of the rematch.
Right before the first quarter ended, senior guard Charles Pride left the game with an ankle injury, not to return. Without him, the Warriors mostly maintained its margin the rest of the half as Willmes put in 13 points and Kyle Butler added eight points.
Then Henninger, down 38-24 at the break, scored the first 14 points of the third quarter to catch up, and form there neither side would have a lead more than five points the rest of the way, trading short runs as the intensity grew and the noise of the large crowd grew with each momentum shift.
Down by four, 63-59, late in the final period, the Black Knights used free throws by Jonah Alston and Kaijah Rodgers to tie it, 63-63, and Jaden Graves, who led Henninger with 24 points, had a corner jumper at the horn to win it, but it went off the rim.
As the first OT period started, the Warriors not only missed Pride, but had seen Butler foul out. And things looked worse when Henninger built a 71-67 lead late in OT before Jacob Piseno’s 3-pointer cut the margin to one.
Graves’ free throws made it 73-70, but from there Nas Johnson took over. The senior forward had controlled the boards throughout the game, but had gone without a field goal in the last three quarters of regulation.
That changed in the OT. With 17 seconds left, Johnson powered through the lane for a dunk to make it 73-72. Immediately, Rodgers was fouled, and at that point Henninger had made 14 consecutive foul shots.
But Rodgers finally missed one, and while he converted the second, Liverpool, out of time-outs, gave the ball right back to Johnson, who hit a driving lay-up with three seconds left to pull his team even, 74-74, and force a second OT.
More drama was to follow. The Warriors weathered a rare four-point play (3-point shot plus free throw) and 3-pointer from Travis Gray and had Willmes hit the go-ahead basket with 1:13 left to break an 81-81 tie.
Then the Black Knights had multiple shots to tie or go in front, and all went off the rim. Fouled with 6.3 seconds left, Johnson missed both free throws, but Henninger’s last chance, a half-court shot to win it, went off target.
Johnson had 13 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter and OT periods, with Butler getting 10 points and Noah Issakainen nine points. Rodgers had 16 points as Gray got 13 points and Alston had 11 points.