A big second quarter is enough to get past last-place Liberty.
For most of Thursday's game against Liberty, Sandy played sloppy, sluggish and downright ugly. Fortunately for the Pioneers, Liberty was a little more objectionable and Sandy survived with a 60-54 win.
The Pioneers scooted off the court wiping the sweat from their brows in relief, thanks to a pristine second quarter and a team-high 15 points from Justin Adams. Had they not outscored Liberty 19-4 in the second, they would have been wiping away tears of defeat instead.
Sandy built a double-digit lead before halftime by limiting turnovers and hitting the majority of its foul shots. Jacob Groom swished all four of his attempts from the free-throw line and added a 3-pointer in the quarter.
But in the first, third and fourth quarters, Sandy was dismal.
I have known these guys since they were eighth-graders and they have always needed to be motivated to play well, Sandy coach Jason Maki said. We aren't almost motivated and we often play to the level of our opponent. We beat the good teams by four or five points and we beat the not-so-good teams by four or five points.
More often than not against Liberty, the Pioneers either passed the ball straight to the Falcons or straight into the stands. Miscommunication and frustration spawned more poor execution, and Liberty was able to stay within striking distance.
Liberty center Aaron Holman took control in the fourth quarter, scoring six straight points in the first two minutes of the period. Holman cut what was once a 12-point Sandy lead to four, and had he not fouled out with five minutes left, he might have led the Falcons all the way back. After Holman left the game, no Liberty player stepped up to fill the offensive void. On the other end, Sandy attacked the weakened post and cashed in layups on four consecutive possessions maintain the lead for good.
With the season finale against Milwaukie on the Pioneers' minds, they were caught off-guard by Liberty, and they almost paid dearly for it.
I think we have been looking towards Milwaukie the whole time, and I told them they can't do that, Maki said. We have done something special this season and we want Friday's game to be for the conference championship, but we can't look past teams before then.