LIBERTY 61, HOWARD 53
Howard 17 10 14 12 - 53
Liberty 15 13 14 19 - 61
Howard (53)-Barry Griffin 10, Smith 6, Cameron 8, Suttles 6, Jarvis Ray 15, Martin, Walters 8.
Liberty (61)-Kendall Anthony 31, Yeates 6, Day 3, DeAndre Barnette 12, Bobo, Arnold 4, Graham, Smith 5.
3-point goals: Howard 4 (Ray 2, Smith, Cameron); Liberty 8 (Anthony 4, Barnette 2, Day, Yeates). Records: Liberty 32-3; Howard 24-7.
MURFREESBORO, Tenn.-For more than three quarters Howard's basketball team held a slim lead despite turnovers, foul trouble and perhaps the best individual player it had faced. But in the final three minutes of Friday's Class AA state tournament semifinal, all of those factors added up against the Hustlin' Tigers in a 61-53 loss to top-ranked Liberty.
In a game that had 15 lead changes, Howard held a one-point advantage with 3:42 remaining. But the Tigers committed three crucial turnovers and Liberty's Kendall Anthony accounted for eight of his team's final points in a 13-4 scoring run spanning the final three minutes.
"We stopped playing team ball and started playing as individuals," said Howard coach Walter McGary, who has guided the program to the semifinals twice in the last four years. "We're pretty tough as a team, but we're no good as individuals.
"Everything we did that kept us in the game, we stopped doing down the stretch. They didn't listen to me during our last couple of timeouts and went out and just kept doing their own thing. I don't understand it, but it's been that way at Howard since Coach [Henry] Bowles was the coach. Howard has had a history of not finishing games the way you have to to win at this level."
Liberty (32-3) will play East Literature (29-6) in today's championship game at 5 p.m. EDT.
Anthony, a Mr. Basketball finalist, made three of his first four 3-point tries and scored 15 of his team's first 23 points. He came up just as big in the closing minutes and finished with 31 points (including nine of 10 free throws) and six assists.
Jarvis Ray's four-point play with 49 seconds left snapped a 7-0 Liberty run and brought Howard back within two, but the Crusaders closed out the win by making six straight free throws in the final 45 seconds, four by Anthony.
"Coach told me during a timeout with about three minutes to go to take control," said Anthony, a University of Richmond signee. "I was just trying to keep our guys calm and remind them we've been in close games before. Every time we felt like we had a good lead Howard kept coming back. But when we picked up the defensive intensity late and got a couple of turnovers, that gave us a lot of energy. And making our free throws was huge, obviously."
The Crusaders, whose last five wins have been by five points or fewer, benefited from Howard's top two scorers playing with foul trouble for much of the second half. Barry Griffin made his first five field-goal tries and had 10 points in the first quarter, but he was held scoreless the next two quarters and fouled out with 1:44 left in the third, after having been called for his fourth just one second prior. He also led Howard with nine rebounds.
Demontay Suttles, who hit the winning shot in the quarterfinals for Howard, played the entire fourth quarter with four fouls. While he never fouled out, he was noticeably more tentative on both ends of the court.
"I had to be smart and play back a lot, and that was frustrating," Suttles said. "I feel like I let my team and my coach down because I'm a captain, but the stupid fouls kept me from playing the way I wanted, and I wasn't there for my team when they needed me to be."
The Hustlin' Tigers missed a golden opportunity to stretch a third-quarter lead that never grew larger than three because they missed six free throws in the quarter.