Celts fall to Liberty despite big offensive night

McNary guard Avery Buss is fouled on her way up for a shot. Buss scored 11 points in the Celtics’ 66-64 loss to Liberty on Friday, Dec. 17 (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).

Despite one of their best offensive performances in recent memory, the McNary girls’ basketball team fell short in the final quarter against Liberty.

The Celtics entered the final period with a nine-point lead, but were outscored 23-12 in the final eight minutes, falling to Liberty by a score of 66-64 on Friday, Dec. 17.

It was the most points the Celtics had scored in a game since the 2019-20 season.

“Our offense is what kept us in the game. We had good possessions and were moving the ball well, especially in the first half. But I told them at halftime that defense is going to win this game,” McNary head coach Elizabeth Doran said. “We needed to hold them to one shot per possession and secure the rebound, and that is what we didn’t do in the second half.”

Ava Rubio and Kylie Nepstad each scored 19 points for the Celtics, while Avery Buss also was in double-figures with 11.

“I felt like it was our defensive execution that wasn’t going for us. We should have been able to get hands up on more shots,” Rubio said.

Liberty threw a multitude of different defensive looks at McNary in the first quarter, but it didn’t faze the Celtics in the slightest.

A pair of triples by Nepstand and Buss gave McNary the 8-4 advantage early in the first quarter. After a fast-break bucket from Buss, Rubio got in on the action with a deep 3-pointer, which was followed by another triple by Nepstad to extend the Celtics lead to 18-11.

“Our intensity was great in the first half,” Rubio said.

Buss got loose for a transition layup to end the high-temp first quarter to put McNary up 24-15.

McNary’s half-court attack sputtered in the second quarter, going more than six minutes without a field goal. But the Celtics were able to get it done at the foul line, making nine of their first 10 free throws in the quarter — McNary finished the contest shooting 22-of-27 from the stripe.

“We have to run quite a bit when we miss free throws, I felt like that was our motivation to be more focused at the line,” Rubio said.

McNary’s first field goal of the second quarter came with less than two minutes remaining in the half, when Rubio knocked down her second shot from behind the arc to put the Celtics up 36-28. Rubio also converted on a transition layup moments later, then dropped an assist to Nepstad as the Celtics led 40-33 at the break.

The Celtics continued their offensive efficiency to start the second half, leading by as many as 12 in the third quarter. A mid-range jumper from Brookelyn Jackson, followed by Buss scoring on a backdoor cut made the score 52-43 in favor of McNary to start the fourth quarter.

However, the McNary defense couldn’t contain the size of Kammy Mahlum down the stretch as the senior post scored nine of her 22 points in the final quarter, many of which came on second chance points.

“There were too many times we were giving up boards. We just weren’t as good as we should have been,” Doran said.

Liberty started the final quarter on a 14-3 run, taking their first lead since the early stages of the first quarter. From there, it was a back-and-forth game, with both teams trading buckets in the final minutes of the contest.

“Our defense really killed us. If we had got more rebounds we probably would have pulled out the win,” Rubio said.

Rubio scored to tie the game at 61-all with less than 40 seconds left, but Liberty responded when Maddy Miramontes nailed a 3-pointer with 18.3 seconds left. On the ensuing possession, McNary had their inbounds pass stolen by Kaliyah Chronister, who was immediately fouled and knocked down both foul shots to put the game on ice.

“It was a fun game. They got a little lucky down the stretch and it could have gone either way. But those are heartbreakers, when you control the whole game and then give it up at the end,” Doran said.

McNary will compete in the Pacific Office Automation Holiday Classic at Grant High School over the holiday break (Dec. 28-30). Their first game is against Westview at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 28.

While the result didn’t go in their favor, Doran was impressed with how her team played and hopes it will translate for the remainder of the season.

“I just want us to build off of this. Hopefully, in the future, our offense will look like it did this game,” Doran said. “There were a lot of positives to take away from this game.”