MANSFIELD — Liberty Christian head coach Frank Kornet knew all along that the key to beating Fort Worth Nolan Catholic was slowing the Vikings’ two star players, Landon Russell and Michael Hoffman.
While the two players combined to score 76 points in the teams’ first two meetings this year, the Warriors won both previous games, by six points and 11 points.
And for much of Friday night’s TAPPS Class 5A state semifinal, it seemed the Warriors had finally found a way to shut down the lethal Nolan duo to earn a trip to the state championship game.
Ultimately, the two, specifically Hoffman, were too much as Nolan Catholic topped Liberty Christian 46-45 at Mansfield Timberview to advance to the state title game.
“Michael is a heck of a player. You’re not ever going to shut him down,” Kornet said. “Eventually he’s going to get going in any game.”
Hoffman and Russell were held to 10 first-half points as the Warriors built a 24-18 halftime lead, but in the third quarter the 6-8 Hoffman scored nine of his game-high 19 points as the Vikings were able to close their deficit to one point by the time the third quarter was finished.
He also had a huge blocked shot of an Austin Freet layup attempt with five seconds to play and Nolan clinging to a one-point lead. The ball was loose and tied up by a group of players for a jump ball, with possession being awarded to the Vikings with 2.9 seconds remaining in the game.
Nolan Catholic (32-4) advances to the 5A state title game to face Plano Prestonwood after the Lions defeated Plano John Paul II 55-48 earlier Friday night. John Paul II and Liberty Christian shared the TAPPS 1-5A championship as all four teams in the state tournament came from the seven-team district. Prestonwood got back the services of star player Julius Randle in the regular-season finale, and the second-rated basketball recruit in the country, according to Rivals.com, scored 40 of his team’s 55 points in the state semifinal.
The Warriors’ game got off to a late start, after 10 p.m., and a slow start as the teams felt each other out until Liberty Christian’s Luke Kornet opened the game’s scoring nearly midway through the opening quarter with a three-point play. But for a while, the old-fashioned kind was the only 3-pointers the Warriors could muster, as their top two long-distance shooters throughout the season, Kornet and Wes Hill, combined to start the game 0-for-5 from beyond the arc before Kornet hit two treys in the second quarter. The pair finished the game 3-for-15 from outside the arc, with all three makes coming from the 6-10 Kornet, the head coach’s son.
Hill injured his ankle in last Saturday’s playoff victory over San Antonio Central Catholic and struggled to find his outside shot, but did manage 13 points off driving layups and from getting to the foul line. Kornet led the Warriors (33-7) with 14 points.
“We definitely didn’t shoot the ball well,” Frank Kornet said. “Wes was hurt in the last game and didn’t get enough minutes in the gym this week [in practice], and that definitely showed tonight. He did battle though. He did a good job of finishing and getting to the line and finishing.”
Ultimately, Frank Kornet said the loss was a tough one to take because of some ill-timed, uncharacteristic turnovers.
“I don’t really look at this as us getting beat, it was more us beating ourselves,” Frank Kornet said. “We didn’t take care of the ball. Every possession means so much in games like this, and we just didn’t value each and every possession like we should have.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
Fort Worth Nolan 46, Liberty Christian 45
FW Nolan 12 6 17 11 — 46
Liberty Christian 10 14 12 9 — 45
Fort Worth Nolan (32-4) — Gabriel Gumm 6, Jonathan Werline 2, Michael Sarrat 10, Landon Russell 7, Michael Hoffman 19, Ryan Ehrhardt 2.
Liberty Christian (33-7) — Wes Hill 13, Jacob Santos 10, Austin Freet 6, Luke Kornet 14, Grier Newlan 2.