Kojdecki, defense sparks Cats
The Houston Tigers were absolutely red hot.
They were zeroed-in, focused and just could not miss from 3-point land.
Bombing away from downtown with alarming range, Houston simply owned the first 26 minutes of play in the championship game of the 37th annual Liberty Invitational Tournament Jan. 19, and the Tigers held victory firmly in their clinched fist.
But the last six minutes of play were a different story entirely.
The last six minutes belonged to the Thayer Bobcats.
Stomping on Houston with brute force, the Cats pried victory from the Tigers' lifeless fingers, as Thayer won the tournament title with a hard-fought 56-47 win.
The Bobcats (16-1) are currently ranked third in Class 2 hoops.
Just how locked in from behind the arc was Houston? Of the Tigers' first 10 field goals in the game, nine were treys; with four coming in the first period and three in the second. Houston hit 10 3-pointers in the game.
Thayer was not quite so prolific from 3-point range, with the Bobcats cashing in just twice from behind the line.
But despite this difference from the outside, when the chips were down, Thayer got a huge lift from its defense and big game off the bench from Matt Kojdecki, propelling the Bobcats to a come-from-behind win.
Houston held the lead for most of the second half, its biggest at 44-38 when Michael Buckner popped a trey with 7:18 left in the game.
Thayer clipped two points off this lead on a Kojdecki (14 points) layup, the first of the senior's 10 clutch points in the fourth.
After a free throw by Houston's Jon Page, the Bobcats said enough is enough, hitting the Tigers with a blast that is sure to leave their heads spinning for a week.
The Cats slapped the ball away, resulting in a layup for Lance Schneider (14 points) at the 5:22 mark.
Then the Tigers threw the ball away on their next possession and Kojdecki hit two free throws to pull Thayer within one, 45-44.
Then the Bobcats took the lead on a steal and jumper from Blake Horton. Horton paced Thayer with 17 points.
Another steal, Thayer's third straight, resulted in a hoop in the paint from Kojdecki, pushing the Cats in front 48-45 with 3:53 left in the game.
Obviously shaken and frustrated by Thayer's grit and determination at that point, the Tigers didn't help themselves any by being whistled for a technical foul, giving Horton two free throws. That extended Thayer's advantage to five, 50-45, with a shade over three minutes left to play.
But the Cats were not satisfied.
Kojdecki pulled up and drilled a triple and fed by another Bobcat pilfer, Horton racked up a layup.
By the time the smoke cleared from Thayer's big finish, the Tigers had been smacked with a 16-zip run that pulled the Bobcats out of a six-point hole into a nine-point, hardware-clinching victory.
Houston climbed in the driver's seat early in the first period, setting the tone for much of the game.
With the third-seeded Tigers on top 14-8, top-seeded Thayer slipped back into contention with hoops from Schneider and Michael Lowther, pulling the Bobcats within two, 14-12, after one.
Despite Houston banging in three treys in the second period, the Bobcats stayed close and trailed by one, 23-22, at intermission.
The Bobcats briefly snagged the lead with a Schneider layup to start the third period, but Houston responded with a 3-pointer from Buckner to get the advantage back on its side, 26-24.
The Tigers managed to keep Thayer back on its heels for most of the third and Houston was still in front 39-36 heading into the fourth period.
And though Houston turned this three-point margin into a six-point one early in the fourth, the Tigers were just not ready for the Bobcats' swarming defense, or Kojdecki's steady hand, and Thayer came storming back to win its fifth Liberty Invitational Tournament title.
Garrett Smith finished with seven points for the Cats, while Ryan Tate added two points.
In semi-final action Jan. 17, Thayer topped the homestanding Mountain View/Birch Tree Liberty Eagles 62-52.
Horton had a big game by racking up a game-high 28 points on the evening, while Schneider posted 16 and Kojdecki logged 14 for Thayer.
The Cats knocked off Summersville 62-56 Jan. 14 to open tourney play.
Schneider scored a game-high 25 to lead Thayer.