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Lions advance to Class 1A Final Four

Mar. 16—MICHIGAN CITY — Heading to the locker room at halftime, there once again were looks of concern as Liberty Christian found itself in the all-too familiar position of trailing.

This time, in the Class 1A semistate semifinal game at Michigan City, the Lions found themselves down by five points against Marquette Catholic after playing their worst quarter of the postseason.

Freshman TJ English did not stop there.

"That was our worst quarter of the whole season," he said. "No one was driving, and we really weren't playing Liberty Christian basketball."

The numbers support his statement.

During that eight-minute period, Liberty Christian scored just seven points on 3-of-20 shooting — or 15% from the floor — made just one of four free-throw attempts and scored a total of zero points off the five turnovers it forced from the Blazers.

But even after all that, the Lions were only down five.

"Marquette Catholic was just competing more than us," LC coach Norman Anderson said. "They wanted it more than us at that time. I told the guys we can keep it the same way, or we can go out and change some things."

The Lions answered the second-half bell the way they have done throughout the tournament. They ratcheted up the defensive pressure. They learned from early mistakes and capitalized on their own depth and the mistakes of the opponent. The result was an 11-2 run to open the third quarter as Liberty surged out in front and rarely looked back on its way to a 50-47 victory.

Liberty Christian (18-9) will face Fort Wayne Canterbury (17-9) at 8:30 p.m. EDT for a trip to Gainbridge Fieldhouse in two weeks for the 1A championship. The Cavaliers defeated the Eagles 60-51 in the second semifinal Saturday.

The Lions have won eight games in a row while Marquette Catholic's improbable postseason run ends, and the Blazers finish at 12-16.

After missing their final seven shots of the second quarter, the Lions knew they needed to get back to playing their own way.

And that started with English.

"At the beginning of the game, he took a lot of perimeter shots and shot some threes, but he makes his money from inside that 15-foot range," Anderson said. "He started to force some stuff, and I told TJ that he was getting a little anxious, and he needs to let the game come to him."

The freshman forward opened the second-half scoring with a baseline drive and, after Aleks Pecoski drained a 3-pointer for Marquette, connected twice to pull the Lions within a basket at 27-25.

After an exchange of turnovers, English found senior Devon Kelley for a basket and a foul. When the senior finished the three-point play, the Lions had a 28-27 lead, their first advantage since 15-13 early in the second quarter.

It was also the second foul against 6-foot-6 sophomore Colson Dobre for the Blazers. He picked up his third just seconds later, and the player with 13 points, nine rebounds and seven blocks against the Lions was sidelined.

English took immediate advantage and scored before Kelley scored back-to-back baskets — one to close the third and the second to open the fourth — to give Liberty a 38-32 lead, its biggest lead of the game.

The third period represented a true reversal of fortune for the Lions' defense. After failing to score on first-half turnovers, they converted 11 Marquette miscues into 11 points during the third quarter and scored six points off five fourth-quarter turnovers.

"That's a correlation of our defense," Anderson said. "I'm perfectly happy not running any offense if we don't have to. If we can just score off our defense by attacking, attacking, attacking, that's what we want to do."

A rebound basket by Kendrick Martin with just under a minute left extended the LC lead back to six points before Jordan Haralson did likewise as the Lions broke the Blazers version of the press for an easy two points.

English led the Lions with 14 points while A'Marien Page added nine points — including a highlight-reel putback dunk in the first half — and Kelley and Haralson scored seven each. Kelley also had five assists.

"They kept coming back to me, and I had to come through for my defense," English said. "Our defense, we play hectic. ... We run all the time and work on defense every day."

Contact Rob Hunt at rob.hunt@heraldbulletin.com or 765-640-4886.