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Liberty Magnet's huge early lead enough to hold on for Division I select boys title

Patriots start game on 20-0 run, withstand late St. Thomas More rally, 62-58

LAKE CHARLES, LOUISIANA - Liberty Magnet got out to a huge early lead and was able to withstand a second-half comeback from St. Thomas More to win its first state championship on Saturday at Burton Coliseum. 

Liberty coach Brandon White knew the top-seeded Cougars would make a run at some point, and they did. At the same time, White was confident his team would survive the onslaught. He got that feeling while watching the Patriots run sprints at a recent practice. 

"The thing that separates this team is work ethic," White said. "When you watch them run sprints, they never miss a line. That means a lot. They had to run after missing a drill at a practice we had at LSU.

"I sat back and watched to see if anyone would miss a line. They didn't. That right there says a lot about this team."

The Division I select second-seeded Patriots got out to a 20-0 lead, tacked on another 9-0 run in the first half, had five players score in double-digits and shot 59% from the floor in a 62-58 win over St. Thomas More at the final day of the Top 28 Marsh Madness state tournament.

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"It was a very interesting game," White said. "Credit to St. Thomas More. They competed hard. They competed down the stretch. Thank God we jumped out to that early lead.

"We've been a defensive team all year that applies a lot of ball pressure. I know (Michael) Mouton is an awesome scorer. We started off with Marquise McPipe on him to try and force other guys to handle the ball. We forced some of those guys into turnovers."

STM (29-2) turned the ball over eight times in the first quarter and 20 for the game. Liberty senior Chivas Lee, who was named Most Outstanding Player, scored 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting in the first quarter with three 3-pointers.

Lee's triple made it 20-0 with three minutes left in the opening period.

Liberty Magnet senior Chivas Lee was named the Most Outstanding Player in the Division I select title game March 9, 2024.

Liberty Magnet senior Chivas Lee was named the Most Outstanding Player in the Division I select title game March 9, 2024.

"Credit to Chivas," White said. "It carried over from the last game - making big shots.

"These guys are competitors. Year in and year out, you want to play for a state championship. We have five seniors. I will always remember this group as the first to bring home a state championship, which they said they would."

Lee finished with 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting. Howard Gaskins Jr. added 12 points with four assists, four rebounds, four steals, and the senior knocked down two free throws with 9.6 seconds remaining.

"To finally get it done my senior year and go out on top, it's real special to me," Gaskins said.

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STM trailed 24-2 late in the first quarter. That's when Michael Mouton and Anthony Angelle got hot.

The senior guards shot a combined 7-for-9 in the first half and sparked a 14-2 run that got the Cougars within 10, 26-16, on Mouton's bucket with 6:26 left in the second quarter.

Liberty (26-3) responded with a 9-0 run for a 35-16 lead.

STM scored the first six points of the third quarter to trail, 39-27. Liberty took a 47-34 lead on a bucket from McPipe at the 1:10 mark of the quarter.

Then, the Cougars scored 10 of the next 12 points to trail by five, 49-44, on a Chad Jones basket early in the fourth.

The Patriots had a nine-point lead (60-51) shrink to two, 60-58, with eight seconds left.

"I always talk about adversity and life," White said. "Basketball has its highs and lows like life. I told them St. Thomas More would make a run.

"We were able to go to the line and make huge free throws. Malek (Robinson) made big free throws down the stretch. Howard put it away."

Robinson totaled 10 points, with six coming from the charity stripe. Jaylen Peters, a 6-foot-6 forward, also had 10 points (5-of-9 FG) with three rebounds, a blocked shot and a steal.

McPipe (3-of-4 FG) also had 10 points, three rebounds and a steal. The Patriots made 17-of-26 two-point field goal attempts.

"We're a pretty deep team,' White said. "We have six juniors and a heavy load of sophomores. There are 13 players on the varsity.

"Practice is very competitive each day. The guys don't shy away from intensity."

Despite its sluggish start, STM shot 57% from the floor (22-of-38 FG) and 46% (6-of-13) from beyond the arc.

Mouton (11-of-13 FG) finished with 28 points, eight rebounds and an assist. Jones, who scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half, had eight rebounds and four assists. Angelle (5-of-9 FG) added 10 points. 

Mike Coppage | @SBLiveLA