MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Howard got a bad dose of reality at the worst possible time.
Playing well in stretches and disappearing in others, the Hustlin' Tigers led by four points early in the fourth quarter but were outscored by 14 the rest of the way, ending their season with a 62-52 loss to Liberty Tech in the Class AA state quarterfinals Wednesday.
It's the third season in a row that the defending state champions have defeated Howard in the state tournament.
After a layup by RodDarius Martin gave Howard the 40-36 edge with 6:18 to go, the Tigers had six turnovers. They finished with 25, which puzzled coach Walter McGary.
"Liberty didn't do anything. We did it all to ourselves," McGary said. "We disunified and were more concerned about ourselves than the team. We were prepared for what Liberty did, and I'm frustrated and disgusted by how the team responded.
"We lost tonight because of jealousy. I need to do a better job of picking players."
Howard (21-10) was led by freshman Wayne Caudle, who in his first career state-tournament game had 16 points, 13 rebounds and nine blocked shots. Brandon Walters finished with seven points, 10 rebounds and four blocks but was rendered ineffective for the most part by foul trouble and Liberty's non-stop pressure.
Cudjoe Young added 10 points for Howard. Tavarius Gause led the Crusaders (29-6) with 16 points.
"As a team, we started arguing on the floor," Young said. "We went against each other; we had the team to win tonight. We had more talent, but we didn't play our game.
"We started rushing and turning the ball over."
Walters picked up his second foul four minutes into the game. He went out at the 1:34 mark of the first quarter, but the Hustlin' Tigers responded with a 10-1 run to lead by seven midway through the second. Liberty answered that run with a 9-2 spurt of its own to tie the score at 21 going into halftime.
"Our game plan was to work the ball into Brandon today, but he just wasn't there," McGary said. "When he plays like he did today, we're an average or below average team.
"Before we left the hotel to head here today, he was making excuses and talking about self instead of team. I don't know if he's been listening to people telling him that he's good, but when he's doing that, he's the world's worst."
The Crusaders led by six late in the third quarter, but Howard went on an 11-1 run capped by Martin's layup. Down the stretch, Liberty hit 17 of 19 free throws -- after hitting two of its first 10.
Howard finished 7-for-17 at the line.
"I reminded our guys that although we're defending state champions, we get no credit," Liberty coach Jarrett Jones said. "The title is still ours, and therefore ours to take. We're supposed to be here."
Daniel Hill had 13 points while Emmette Lindsey had 11 points and 12 rebounds for the Crusaders.