Chemistry class

Liberty players struggle to blend together while Port Jervis brews a better formula

By RICHARD A. ROSS

PORT JERVIS, NY - When you look at a team’s individual players and try to assess their talent, you have to take into account how well they work together.

Those teams that are successful manifest good chemistry and find a way to work together effectively on offense and defense.

For Port Jervis and Liberty, the issue of chemistry was very much in evidence as they met on December 18 in search of their first win. From early on, it was apparent that Port Jervis had concocted a better formula at this juncture than their Sullivan County visitors.

Liberty came in at 0-3, with its first two games in the Coaches Versus Cancer Tournament in Warwick. They looked impressive, especially in their opener against Class AA Warwick, where they got big contributions from their nexus of Lakarri Byrd, André Brand and Rashaun Sellers.

They also played well against Wallkill. Against Burke the next week, they simply had no answer for big man Kyle Byrons and the Indians’ initial good chemistry began to bubble and boil ominously.

For their part, the Port Jervis Red Raiders had also fallen to Burke, but played them much tougher. Port Jervis also lost to Valley Central.

Liberty controlled the tip, but little else as they failed to get into their offensive sets, opting instead to fire up long range shots that afforded the Red Raiders easy rebounds and sent them off and running for transition shots at the other end of the floor.

Port Jervis Junior Marcus Burbridge, a last minute starter inserted to replace Darrick Mason, who had to sit out the start after missing a practice, lit it up early. He canned the first of his trio of three-pointers on his opening shot, after a miss by Byrd at the opposite end of the court. He added two more points in the first quarter as Port Jervis got a quick 7-0 lead before Byrd sunk a free throw that put the Indians on the board.

Liberty recovered from the early flurry and came back to tie it at seven-all with points from Brand, Byrd and a three from Sellers. The teams traded the lead twice more before Mason, who came off the bench, gave them four points late in the frame to pace his team to a 14-10 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Once the second quarter got underway, the Red Raiders dominated play, ripping off an 11-0 run that morphed into a 15-2 chasm, fueled by the elevated play of Burbridge, who added two more treys on his way towards a 14-point second quarter outburst. Liberty’s defense afforded the big man way too much space on the perimeter and at times responded too slowly to stop his slashes to the rim. By night’s end, Burbridge had a game-high 25 points.

Mason chipped in seven in the second quarter and Liberty abetted Port Jervis’s run with a quartet of turnovers, coupled with poor shot selection that had the Indians going one and out. Port Jervis dominated the glass and got second and third shot opportunities, while Liberty continued to play out of synch.

Port Jervis led 38-14 at the half, having outscored the Indians 28-4.

The onslaught continued in the third quarter as Liberty’s turnover woes worsened with six more coughups of the rock. Port Jervis capitalized by getting points in transition off the steals. Though Burbridge and Mason quieted down somewhat, other Port Jervis players got going, including Justin Horne who would end up with a dozen points on the night. Paul Higgins and Mike Ladonne contributed a bucket apiece, as Port Jervis doubled up Liberty 14-7 in the third quarter and 58-21 after three. Liberty’s points came from Brand, Connor Hinton and Sellers.

Liberty fought back in the fourth quarter, but it was too little, too late. Brand scored 11 of his team-high 18 points in the quarter, helping Liberty make the score look respectable at 58-41. Liberty scored the last 14 points of the game, although some of those came against Port’s second string as coach Ron Semerano pulled his starters with just under four minutes remaining.

Semerano was pleased with his team’s effort. “I thought we played as a team and minimized our turnovers. One of our goals tonight was to box out and keep them away from the boards and we did that. They have three talented players who can beat you,” he added, referring to Byrd, Brand and Sellers.

Port Jervis (1-3) didn’t maintain its chemistry against Cornwall. They got hammered 66-25.

Liberty coach Dave Slater said that until his team develops a better chemistry, they are apt to struggle. “When we’re on, we’re really good, but when we’re off like tonight, you can see what happens. I have a short bench, so I don’t have many options when things aren’t working. We’ll fight back though. We’ve got a tough team and plenty of talent.”

Liberty (0-5) nearly reversed its fortune by falling one point shy in a league game against James I. O’Neill on December 20. Byrd caught fire and had 30 points in the losing effort, with 18 of them coming in the second half. Brand poured in 17 against O’Neill (3-1, 1-1 OCIAA). The Indians were slated to host another division rival in Fallsburg on December 22. Over the holidays, the Indians will entertain Class D Bridgehampton from Long Island, the team with eight state final titles.

TRR photo by Richard A. Ross
Port Jervis junior Marcus Burbridge gets to the rim for two points despite an athletic attempt by Liberty’s Andre Brand to stop him. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Richard A. Ross
Brand, below left, is fouled in the early going. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Richard A. Ross
Port Jervis’s Dustin Horne (5) further blocks a shot by Liberty’s Claude Phillips (33). (Click for larger version)