116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - It's been a rollercoaster season for the Iowa City Liberty boys' basketball team, to say the least.
So why would a Lightning postseason game be any different?
After having nine games axed from its schedule, starting and stopping the season on three different occasions, Liberty (7-5) made up for lost time in a back-and-forth, Class 4A substate semifinal matchup against Davenport North (13-6), with a 58-50 victory. The game featured 12 lead changes.
What was Liberty's recipe for success? Practice.
'This was our first full week of practice in a month-and-a-half,” Liberty Co-Coach Ryan Kelly said. 'We honestly used the first four days on ourselves, we didn't even worry about Davenport North. We just needed the time to get better.”
Liberty took a two-point lead, 26-24, into the locker room at intermission. Its halftime lead was partially aided by Wildcats leading scorer Jayden Houston picking up his second foul in the first quarter. Houston didn't play in the second quarter.
When Houston returned in the third, North went on an 8-2 run, leading to a Liberty timeout.
'To be honest, I was a little nervous,” Kelly said. 'We called that timeout, we sat them. And one thing that we've always attributed our success to is the kids looking at us in the eye - and usually when they give us eye contact, we know they're locked in.”
The Lightning responded by going on a 9-4 run to retake the lead, 37-36.
The teams exchanged leads five more times before Grayson Tyler hit a 3-pointer to expand Liberty's lead to four, 47-43, with just under three minutes remaining.
'Grayson hit a number of key shots,” Liberty Co-Coach Stu Ordman said. 'Grayson's a gamer, he always has been.”
Tyler finished the game with 16 points.
Liberty maintained the lead for the remainder of the clock, and with 25 seconds left, Kelby Telander put an exclamation point on the game with a monster two-handed dunk.
'I think it got everybody hyped up,” Telander said. 'It was a good way to finish the game.”
Telander finished with a double-double, tallying 19 points and 10 boards.
With the victory, Liberty is just one win away from making the state tournament for the first time in program history. And with all the chaos the season has brought, a state berth might alleviate some of the pain.
'I think it would, for sure,” Telander said when asked if a state tournament berth would make up for the lost games this season. 'It's a terrible experience, completely for seniors. But at the end of the day, it's taught us to take every minute we can to be the best we can.”
Liberty plays No. 5 Pleasant Valley on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Bettendorf. The Spartans beat Bettendorf 21-19 Friday.