At the conclusion of the regular season, the Coronado and Liberty boys basketball teams looked identical on paper.
They were easy to tell apart Monday night. The Patriots were the team making free throws.
Liberty made 15 of its first 17 foul shots in the second half and used a game-changing run in the third quarter to beat the Cougars 62-55 in a Division I Sunrise Region play-in game at Silverado.
The Patriots (10-16) advance to play at Las Vegas (18-9), the top seed from the Northeast League, at 6:30 p.m. today in the Sunrise quarterfinals.
Coronado and Liberty tied for fourth place in the Southeast League with 4-6 records. The teams were forced to play Monday after splitting the season series and collecting their other three league wins against the same opponents.
“Our staff knew it was going to be a challenge from the very beginning, but we believed in the kids the entire year,” said Quintin Lester, in his first season as Liberty’s coach after three wildly successful years with the school’s girls program. “The early part of the year built us for this right here.”
Jeremy Lontayao led the Patriots with 22 points. Dartavious Young had 10 points and 12 rebounds, and Kai Nacua added 10 points.
Liberty trailed 31-25 at halftime and was down 36-31 midway through the third quarter, but turned the game around by forcing eight turnovers in the period. Melvin Rushing’s steal and layup helped spark a 12-2 run to close the quarter, and Nacua’s 8-foot jumper put the Patriots up 45-38 early in the fourth quarter.
“We saw from some of the previous meetings they didn’t like our pressure,” Lester said. “We were just waiting for the right moment. Getting down early forced us to try to create more possessions. Our halfcourt trap was pretty effective for us.”
The Cougars (9-17) cut the deficit to 51-49 on Ricardo Robinson’s floater with 3:05 left to play, but couldn’t get any closer as Liberty put the game away at the free-throw line. Tyler Newman and Lontayao combined to go 8-for-10 in the final 1:01.
The Patriots were 18 of 27 at the line, missing their final four attempts when the game was out of reach. Coronado, meanwhile, missed 10 of its 17 foul shots in the first half and finished the game 9-for-24.
“Free throws killed us,” Cougars coach Jeff Kaufman said. “That’s about focus and playing hard, and we lost focus at the free-throw line. But credit to Liberty. They played hard.”
Justice Augmon led Coronado with 18 points, and Charlie Teixeira had 10, all in the first half.