By FRANK CASH
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
LIBERTY, Ill. -- The Unity boys basketball team stepped up its intensity at just the right time Tuesday night.
After letting an eight-point lead slip away in the final three minutes of regulation, the Mustangs took the lead for good on their first possession of overtime and held off Liberty 55-52 in a West Central Conference South Division game.
"We worked a lot harder in overtime than we did in the fourth quarter," Unity senior Andrew Doyle said. "It's upsetting to let such a big lead slip away (in regulation). But sometimes that happens, especially when you're playing a good team like Liberty. Tonight, it made us reach down and play a little harder."
Lane Davis scored off a pass from Doyle to put the Mustangs ahead 43-35 with 3 minutes, 21 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Unity (4-2, 1-0) scored only two more points -- Reed Bentzinger made two free throws with 39.4 seconds left -- in regulation.
Bentzinger's free throws gave Unity a 45-40 lead. Isaac Murfin scored on a pass from Tyler Ormond on the Eagles' next possession, and Brett Genenbacher immediately fouled Doyle, who missed the front end of a bonus situation.
Murfin followed by rebounding a missed shot by Michael Blewett and scoring with 20.2 seconds left. Murfin was fouled and completed the three-point play to tie the game at 45.
After the teams traded turnovers, Unity had a chance to win the game, but Davis' shot in the lane was blocked by Murfin with 1.6 seconds left.
After making seven turnovers in the fourth quarter, the Mustangs took care of the ball in overtime.
"We forced a lot of stuff in the fourth quarter," Unity coach Keith Carothers said. "But even though Liberty came back and tied it, we knew the game was still in our hands. We're doing better at responding to pressure situations."
Murfin was fouled 16 seconds into overtime and made a free throw for a 46-45 Liberty lead. Unity answered by scoring the next six points, starting with Alex Blickhan's steal and layup on the next possession.
The Eagles (2-3, 0-1) didn't score again from the floor until Blewett's 3-pointer at the end of the game.
"You know when you play Unity, they're going to work hard," Liberty coach Andy Douglas said. "When we don't match the other team's effort, we're not going to be in very good shape. There were too many times tonight when we didn't play as hard as we needed to."
Carothers was elated with the job his post players did on Murfin. The Liberty senior scored 14 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, but Davis nearly matched him with 13 points and 13 boards.
"The thing (Davis and Thomas Donley) did best was playing behind Murfin," Carothers said. "They kept Murfin from getting a lot of good looks. They made it tough for him to do much after Liberty lobbed the ball into him."
Limiting Murfin to only one free throw and one rebound in overtime was a key.
"The whole team stepped up in overtime," Davis said. "We got some good help on Murfin and their other inside players. We played a lot smarter late in the game."
After playing five games in the first nine day of the season, Liberty doesn't play again until it hosts Southeastern next Tuesday.
"We've played a lot of games in a short period of time," Douglas said. "There's definitely some things we need to work on. It's going to be good to get a few days of practice in now."