Parker McCurdy hits buzzer-beating three to send Panthers to State Championship
By Keith Sparks
In a game that very few people thought Liberty Hill would win, senior guard Parker McCurdy silenced the doubters and lived every basketball player’s dream by hitting a buzzer-beating three-point shot to give the Panthers a 53-51 win while punching a ticket to the State Championship.
Friday’s State Semifinal matchup between Liberty Hill and Decatur was a battle of execution. Neither team had a significant advantage, athletically, but Decatur had a clear height advantage that allowed them to dominate the rebounding category, particularly on the offensive glass.
Liberty Hill jumped on Decatur early, going up 13-9 in the first quarter and holding a lead for nearly the entire quarter. The second quarter was a different story, however, as Decatur went on a 14-0 run to take a 23-13 lead with less than five minutes left in the first half.
Not many jumpers went down for either team, as evidenced by the zero percent three-point shooting accumulated by both teams through the first half, though Liberty Hill didn’t shoot a single three-pointer and Decatur shot only six.
The latter half of the second quarter went back and forth as Decatur continued to come up with big offensive rebounds and the Panthers kept it close at the free-throw line.
Free throws played a major role in the first half, with Liberty Hill scoring 12 of their 20 points from the line as they attempted 18 free throws to Decatur’s 11. At halftime, Decatur held a 29-20 lead.
The third quarter is where things got seemingly out of control for Liberty Hill. Decatur started the second half on a roll, finally getting jump shots to fall and getting easy looks at the rim as they got out to a 36-20 lead.
Unforced errors by Decatur kept Liberty Hill in it as they were called for two straight traveling violations. On the other end, Liberty Hill continued to make tough shots at the rim, which were necessary considering jump shots were not falling.
After breaking Liberty Hill’s full-court press with ease in the second and third quarters, Decatur began to struggle out of the trap as the Panthers picked up the defensive intensity.
The Panther defense held Decatur to five total points in the fourth quarter while scoring 18 of their own, the highest-scoring quarter of the game.
With seven minutes left to play, back-to-back and-one layups by McCurdy and Kaleb Bannon, in addition to the made free throws, suddenly brought the Panthers back in it. After being down 46-35 at the end of the third quarter, Liberty Hill was down only 46-41.
Junior post Walker Baty, the Panthers’ only player taller than 6’3”, was huge in the fourth quarter, finishing in the post and making his free throws while playing big on the glass.
With Decatur up three and only 1:29 left to play, leading scorer Gage Rieger was issued a technical foul for having words with the official, giving the Panthers two free throws and the ball. Fortunately, Kaleb Bannon hit both to bring the deficit to one.
After Decatur missed two critical front-end free throws in one-and-one situations while the Panthers were intentionally fouling, Liberty Hill had the ball down only one with less than 10 seconds to go.
According to Head Coach Barry Boren, the play he called broke down, and at this point, the players on the floor were forced to improvise. Bannon handled a dangerous pass near half court from Carson Perkins, which he swung to McCurdy in the left corner with less than two seconds to go.
With a hand in his face and the game on the line, McCurdy was calm and collected as he accomplished what every youth basketball dreams of: hitting a game-winning buzzer beater in the State Tournament. His three-point attempt hit the back of the rim as it went in with 0.0 on the clock to give the Panthers a two-point win.
McCurdy didn’t have much to say following his game winner, simply saying that he was “glad it went in” and crediting his teammate for the pass.
“We were down one at the end of the game, they pressured us, Kaleb made a great pass, and I’m just glad it went in,” McCurdy said. “It was crazy. All my teammates were around me celebrating.
After the game, Boren said the Panthers’ full-court pressure is a style that allows teams to come from behind late in games.
“We play a style that allows you to come back when you’re behind,” Boren said. “This isn’t the first time. It might be one of the few times that were behind and actually got back on top, but there was a method to the madness, I promise you.”
Immediately following Liberty Hill’s win, Oak Cliff Faith Family beat Houston Yates 80-74, punching their ticket to the State Championship, where they’ll play Liberty Hill at 7 p.m. on Saturday.