Canterbury ends Liberty Christian season in semistate final

Mar. 17—MICHIGAN CITY — One by one, the Liberty Christian players exited the locker room — many with the fresh tear stains still visible on their faces — to the adoration and appreciation of their family, friends and fans. There were hugs and reminders to keep their chins up, a tough request after the Lions saw their season come to a heartbreaking end in the form of a 56-53 defeat by Fort Wayne Canterbury in the championship game of the Class 1A North semistate.

There was no assuage for the grief felt by coach Norman Anderson, who knew full well but for a clutch shot by the Cavaliers and bad-luck turnover just seconds later, his Lions may very well be cutting down nets for the third straight weekend.

But that honor went to the Cavaliers (18-9) after their first semistate championship, and Canterbury will look ahead to the 1A state championship game in two weeks at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Liberty Christian (18-10) can only look back at what could have been.

"Whether you're up 20 or down 20, you play until that buzzer sounds," Anderson said. "You're going to miss some shots, you're going to make some shots and you're going to miss some assignments, but that doesn't define who we are. You bounce back. They made a shot at the end. They made a shot, and that was the game."

Before they could lament the way the game ended, the Lions had to stave off early elimination as Canterbury stormed out to a double-digit lead in the first half. It was a somewhat familiar position as Liberty found itself down by significant margins in each of its previous four postseason games.

This was the biggest deficit they faced, however, at 22-10 after 6-foot-8 senior Tucker Day converted a three-point play for the Cavaliers. Day finished with 18 points, six rebounds and three blocks after sitting out the morning semifinal due to receiving two technical fouls during the sectional.

As they had done before, the Lions chipped away with sophomore Jordan Haralson striking the first blow with a wing jumper. Freshman Tywaine Fuller cashed in a three-point play of his own before A'Marien Page added a free throw, and the Lions trimmed the deficit to 23-18 at the break.

The Cavaliers kept the Lions at arm's length for most of the third quarter, although were it not for the efforts of senior Devon Kelley, they might have put Liberty away early.

Kelley scored the first 10 Lions points of the second half, including a score in the lane to keep Liberty within 34-28. His single-handed efforts kept the Lions alive until his teammates brought help.

"I gave it my all tonight, and they gave it their all. That's all I can do or ask for," Kelley said. "We worked on it all week. We've been working on scenarios all the way back to the summer."

That help showed up in the form of an 11-0 Liberty run. Kendrick Martin scored before T.J. English — who led LC in the morning semifinal with 14 points — scored his first field goal of the final with 2:38 left in the third. Martin followed with a steal and basket before English gave the Lions their first lead with a three-point play at 37-35.

Fuller capped the run with a basket of his own for a 39-35 lead, and the Lions settled for a 41-39 lead heading into the final period.

Fuller opened the fourth with a 3-point basket for a 44-39 lead, the biggest of the night for the Lions.

The remainder of the game was a punch-counterpunch scenario, with ties at 44-44 and 46-46 and a total of seven lead changes, including five over the final 2:25, the first coming on a 3-point basket by Canterbury senior Devon Lewis for a 49-48 lead.

Page then rebounded a missed English free throw and found the freshman for a basket and a 50-49 lead before John Parent drove for a field goal and made a free throw for a 52-50 Cavaliers' lead.

That free throw came as a result of Kelley's fifth foul, sending the senior to the bench after scoring a team-leading 13 points.

"DK is the heartbeat of this team, and he brings that edge and that attitude," Anderson said. "There was a time we were down 10, and DK willed us. That was just that will to win, and he wanted this so, so bad. My heart hurts for him because I know he wanted it so bad. But at the end of the day, (he) made it somewhere that a lot of high school kids have never ever been. 'You're a champion,' I told him."

Haralson entered to replace Kelley and with 36.4 seconds left, drilled a 3-point basket from the corner to put the Lions on top 53-52.

But Parent answered in kind for the Cavaliers for a 55-53 lead, sending the Lions roaring up the court to seek a tie or the lead.

But Haralson caught a pass while his foot was touching the sideline, turning the ball back over to Canterbury.

The Lions were forced to foul, putting Lewis at the line with 7.8 seconds remaining and a chance to clinch it for Canterbury. He made the first, but missed the second to give Liberty hope as Page grabbed the rebound.

Fuller's 3-point attempt glanced off the front of the rim into the hands of English, whose desperation heave at the horn missed the mark, sending the Cavaliers into hysterics and leaving the Lions distraught.

Denied their first semistate championship since the 2016 state championship team, the Lions will now begin working on getting back and advancing further. With Fuller, English, Martin, Haralson and Page among the players returning, the Lions feel the future is bright.

But this young group of Lions has learned what kind of work it will take finish the mission.

"You haven't heard the last of the Liberty Christian Lions," Anderson said. "I hate it for my seniors, and my heart hurts for those guys, but I told my young guys that it's back to work. They've got the spring and the summer to get back to work. Now they know how this feels, they've got a taste of this. I'm excited for next year, but right now we're going to celebrate our seniors. They deserve it."

The second senior is Jerramie Johnson, who did not score but had two rebounds and an assist Saturday night.

Fuller and English each scored 10 points in support of Kelley's 13 while Martin scored eight and Page added seven points, five rebounds and two blocks.

Lewis scored 14 points while Parent added 10 in support of Day.

Contact Rob Hunt at or 765-640-4886.