Offense disappears in LHS girls loss to Liberty

Independence, Mo. — After watching Lawrence High’s girls basketball team in the first quarter Monday, no one would have guessed the Lions would have trouble scoring the ball.

That’s what made Lawrence’s 53-32 loss to Liberty (Mo.) in the first round of the Truman Tournament even more puzzling. The Lions scored 15 points in the first quarter and then were limited to 17 points in the next 24 minutes.

The Bluejays (11-3, ranked No. 9 in Missouri’s Class 5) pulled ahead by outscoring Lawrence, 17-3, in the second quarter and never allowed the Lions to climb closer than seven points throughout the second half.

“We played so well so early. I don’t know,” LHS coach Jeff Dickson said. “We just paused and we starting losing all the hustle plays. We started losing all the 50-50 balls. We stopped looking for our shots. And they didn’t. They were aggressive and they knocked down shots.”

It was different in the first quarter when the Lions raced to a 15-8 advantage. Junior center Chisom Ajekwu powered her way in the paint to four points. When she attracted a double-team, she dished to junior guard Leslie Ostronic for a 3-pointer. Senior E’lease Stafford drilled back-to-back 3s, firing from even further back on her second attempt.

Following the first quarter, the Lions shot 6 of 31 from the field (19 percent). Ostronic made the team’s only shot in the final nine minutes of the first half: a 3-pointer assisted from point guard Hannah Stewart.

Stafford, signed to play at East Tennessee State, tried to jumpstart the offense out of halftime. After a free-throw by Sammy Williams, the 5-foot-11 wing scored five straight points to cut the score to 34-27. Stafford finished with 16 points and five rebounds.

But the Lions (6-3, ranked No. 7 in Class 6A) couldn’t hold momentum. Shots stopped falling after Liberty switched to a zone defense and the Bluejays tried to push the pace to find layups or 3-pointers in transition.

“That’s a really good team but I think we’re dramatically better than what we showed tonight,” Dickson said.

Ajekwu (nine points) scored all five of her team’s points in the fourth quarter, but Liberty pulled away with a 10-0 run midway through the fourth quarter and emptied its bench in the final minutes.

“We want to see ourselves as somebody that can compete for a state championship and compete to get to the state tournament,” Dickson said. “Right now, we’re not ready for that. We’re clearly not ready for that. We have to get back in the gym and work on the mental side of it.”

The Lions will face Lee’s Summit in the consolation semifinals at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Truman High.

Liberty (53)

Olivia Nelson 5-7 5-5 15, Mary Grace Mason 5-10 0-0 13, Kayel Newland 5-14 0-0 12, Jillian Fleming 3-5 0-0 6, Jordan Johnson 2-2 0-0 4, Nese Selepeo 1-4 0-0 3, Caroline Crawford 0-0 0-0 0, Maddie Davolt 0-1 0-0 0, Paulina Stamper 0-1 0-0 0, Annie Price 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-44 5-5 53.

Lawrence (32)

Hannah Stewart 0-4 0-0 0, Leslie Ostronic 2-6 0-0 6, Talima Harjo 0-4 0-0 0, E’lease Stafford 6-18 0-0 16, Chisom Ajekwu 3-8 3-5 8, Sophie DeWitt 0-0 0-0 0, Tyrin Cosey 0-0 0-0 0, Sammy Williams 0-1 1-4 1, Asia Goodwin 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 11-41 4-9 32.

Liberty 8 17 13 15 — 53

Lawrence 15 3 9 5 — 32

Three-point goals: Liberty 6-17 (Mason 3, Newland 2, Selepeo); Lawrence 6-20 (Stafford 4, Ostronic 2). Fouled out: None. Turnovers: Liberty 11, Lawrence 13.