Wednesday was the first of two scheduled meetings between Coronado star sophomore Jaden Hardy and Liberty junior standout Julian Strawther.
Round one went to Hardy.
Hardy had 41 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Cougars to a 97-78 road win over Liberty in a key Southeast League game.
“It’s special,” Hardy said of the matchup with Strawther, who is his teammate with the Las Vegas Prospects in the offseason. “He’s my AAU teammate. It’s always fun to go against him. He’s a good competitor.”
Hardy started slowly missing his first four shots, but junior forward Tyrell Hardy picked up the slack. He scored 13 of his 26 points in the first quarter to help Coronado (9-3, 2-0 Southeast) take control early.
“My shot wasn’t falling at first, so we went to him because he was the hot man,” Hardy said. “The first half belonged to him.”
Hardy got going in the second quarter, scoring 19 points. He finished 17-for-30 from the field.
“Jaden doesn’t really start slow, he just does his thing,” Coronado coach Jeff Kaufman said. “It’s fun to watch. It’s easy coaching someone like that. You just give him the basketball pretty much. Once he gets rolling, he’s really hard to defend.”
The same can be said of Strawther, but Coronado junior Felix Reeves made difficult for the Liberty star, who had to work for all of his 21 points.
“Felix Reeves, he had one job and one job only,” Kaufman said. “We told him if Julian goes to the bathroom, go with him. I’ve got to give him the credit tonight. He really did a nice job, and Julian’s a great player.
“Every time he got the ball he had to look at two people, and if he’s not rolling, Liberty struggles a little bit.”
Reeves also had 16 points, and Hunt grabbed 11 rebounds for the third-ranked Cougars. Freshman Richard Isaacs added 11 assists for Coronado, which scored 31 points off 26 Liberty turnovers.
“All we do is work on defense in practice,” Hardy said. “We barely do any offense. Offense comes from defense.”
Kobe Stroughter added 15 points for 10th-ranked Liberty (4-8, 0-1), which got nine rebounds from Strawther.