HOWLAND - If anyone is wondering what type of offensive attack the Liberty Leopards are going to deploy in an upcoming game, just ask coach Dan Bubon.
He's not hiding anything.
"We want to run. That's the gameplan all year long," he said. "If you're going to play us, you're going to have to find a way to slow us down."
The Howland Tigers came up empty in that area.
Liberty's run-and-gun style and a huge spurt to start the third quarter lifted the Leopards to a 83-70 non-conference victory in the opener for both teams.
Liberty pushed the ball down the court from the first possession on, and while the Leopards appeared a bit out of control at times, they also created easy lay-ups by breaking the full-court press defense of Howland and driving to the hoop. The up-and-down approach worked well partly because of Liberty's depth. Seven different players scored in the first quarter, and all five starters finished the game in double figures.
Despite all that, Howland hung tough, forcing turnovers and riding the all-around play of Arbie Murray, a 6-foot-3 senior who scored inside and outside against the Leopards. He scored 15 of his game-high 26 in the first half, and the Tigers trailed just 41-36 at the break.
"We knew they were going to run with the personnel they had, and that's the style of play coach Bubon grew up playing and coaching," Howland coach Bill Bogan said. "So we knew they wanted to run. Our philosophy is we're trying to take the ball out of the hands of their good decision makers. But we don't want to give up the lay-ups that we gave up tonight."
The real trouble for Howland started at the outset of the second half. The Tigers committed turnovers on their first three possessions and five of their first six. Liberty, on the other hand, came out firing, making its first nine shots and opening the quarter on a 15-1 run to take a 56-37 lead with 5 minutes remaining in the third. The Leopards' Asim Pleas led the charge with seven of his team-high 19 points in the quarter.
"I loved the way we came out in the third quarter," Bubon said. "At halftime we were up five, and as a coaching staff we felt we could've been up 20 if we didn't foul everything. It's not the referee's fault. They were being aggressive, which I like, but we weren't being smart. But then in the second half, we just jumped on them. You're not going to blow a team like this out completely at home. They were going to make a run and come back. They have too much pride. They're too well coached, but when you get a lead like that, it gives you some leeway."
Liberty needed that cushion because Howland did indeed make a run. The Tigers trimmed what was an 18-point lead down to six at 71-65 with 2:50 remaining. The run was fueled by Murray, who scored 11 in the final stanza. Three free throws by the Leopards put them back up by nine, and then Cameron Clark hit a dagger of a 3-pointer to seal the victory. Clark finished with 16 points and hit several big shots throughout the night. That particular 3 wasn't the shot of choice for Bubon, who wanted him to pull back and kill some clock, but it went in, so he was OK with it.
"I brought him over and I kinda got him about taking the shot," he said. "And then I said, 'By the way, nice shot.' "
Clark, who was 6 of 8 from the floor, said he just couldn't pass up the opportunity.
"I was wide open, no one was there, so I just took my time, concentrated and took the shot," Clark said. "I was confident in my shot."
He better had been because Bubon joked it might have been the last one he took for a while if he missed.