NEWTON FALLS - Liberty's Darrien Underwood tied the game at 55 with 15 seconds left.
That gave Newton Falls plenty of time to set up its offense and eventually get past the Leopards Friday, 56-55.
Dale Kernan, a 6-foot senior, exuded his leadership as he drove through the Leopards' interior defense, trying to draw a foul with 4 seconds remaining. His layup went off the back of the iron and rolled to the floor, where 6-1 senior Jarrod Crowder muscled his way in the post for the offensive board with a second left.
"The whole night they were going man, so it was easy to get in there in the opening on the right side," Kernan said. "I figured I'd take it in there, get a layup, and get the lead back."
Meanwhile, Liberty's Asim Pleas drew his fifth foul and sat down with a game-high 22 points with just more than one second remaining on the Crowder putback. The tenths of a second were not visible on the scoreboard.
"He played smooth tonight," Liberty coach Dan Bubon said. "He played well tonight. If we get that play from his consistently, I love our chances."
Crowder hit his first free throw for a 56-55 lead.
"We've not been the best foul-shooting team and Jarrod doesn't shoot a lot of foul shots," Newton Falls coach Roy Sembach said. "Earlier in the season, he went to the foul line and he missed it really badly. He kidded me and said, 'It was my first varsity foul shot. I was really nervous.'"
Newton Falls called timeout.
"Tonight, when he went up before the second foul shot, I tried to ease him and told him, 'Miss your second varsity foul shot,'" Sembach said.
But it almost went in, then rimmed out.
"I wasn't sure how he (Sembach) wanted me to miss it - go up or line drive it," Crowder said. "He told me to line drive it. It was a little shaky. I thought it was going in."
The ball dropped into the hands of Liberty's Tyler Evans, who had nine rebounds - most in the second half. Liberty called timeout, which was granted even though there was all zeros on the scoreboard. Since there was more than a second left when the foul on Crowder occurred, 0.7 seconds finally appeared.
Evans had to inbound and tried to heave a three-quarter-court pass to Underwood around the foul line. It was a similar scenario where Duke's Grant Hill heaved a pass to Christian Laettner in the final seconds during the 1992 NCAA East Regional final to beat Kentucky by one.
Instead, Newton Falls double-teamed Underwood, who had 13 points and 11 rebounds, and poked the ball away as time expired.
"I was thinking about that," said Kernan, who had a team-high 15 points and was born after the famous Laettner shot. "I asked coach if I could go back. He said, 'Yea, stay back in the paint.' I was worried about that. He doesn't go to Duke. He won't be able to hit that shot with 0.7 seconds."
It wasn't that close to start the second half as Newton Falls amassed a 41-34 lead late in the third quarter. Liberty was 0 of 5 from the line in the third quarter, 2 of 10 in the second half and 8 of 18 for the game.
Despite that, the Leopards (5-4, 2-2 All-American Conference, National Division) started to peck away at the Tigers lead.
Pleas found a wide-open John Helms on the wing for 3 - Liberty's only triple - to give the Leopards their first lead of the second half, 50-49, with 2:42 left.
Ozzie Hawkins, who had 13 points, countered with a 3-point play attempt, but he missed the coinciding free throw, to give Newton Falls (3-5, 3-1) a 51-50 lead.
The two teams toggled back and forth until Crowder's free throw to seal the game, a player Sembach said was deserving of Friday's accolades
"He does all the hard work for us, as far as post defense, guarding guys bigger than him, rebounding, setting screens," Sembach said. "He doesn't score a lot of points, but he does anything you ask."
Jaden Walton added 10 for Newton Falls, which travels to Brookfield on Tuesday. The same night, Liberty is at Niles.