Connoyer calms down after technical foul, scores game-high 17 points to lead QND boys past Liberty

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Quincy Notre Dame's Aiden Klauser | MRN File photo by Samantha Carmean

LIBERTY, Ill. – Quincy Notre Dame forward Jackson Connoyer had to refocus after receiving a technical foul following a scramble for a rebound under his own basket midway through the second quarter Friday night.

His actions resulted in two free throws that gave Liberty a seven-point lead.

“I said things I shouldn’t have said,” Connoyer admitted in a post-game interview. “I tried to calm myself down after that.”

The 6-foot-4 sophomore did just that.

Scoreless at that point, Connoyer repeatedly found open teammates from the high post in the second half and also scored a team-high 17 points – including a clutch 3-pointer with 2:05 left and his team clinging to a 50-47 lead – to help the Raiders pull out a 59-52 West Central Conference road victory over the Eagles.

With its sixth win in seven games, QND improved to 15-9 overall and 6-1 in the WCC ahead of Saturday night’s home conference game against Rushville-Industry.

“I thought we played away from the basket in the first half, so we were trying to get paint touches,” Raiders coach Kevin Meyer said. “Jackson had a good first half, so we threw him out there in the starting lineup (in the third quarter). We got a couple of good looks for him. He also found some guys cutting to the basket and pitched it out for a couple of threes.

“Jackson has been shooting really well lately, so it was great to see him catch the ball in rhythm late and knock it down.”

After Connoyer buried his wide-open 3-pointer from the right corner and Liberty failed to score on its next possession, Conner Young followed with a kick-out three from the right wing to push QND’s advantage to 56-47 and effectively seal the victory with 1:26 remaining.

“Give credit to them,” Eagles coach Greg Altmix said. “They came out and made some adjustments in the second half, and we lost some guys on the defensive end. And when you lose guys and give them good shots, good teams are going to knock those shots down.”

QND struggled against Liberty’s zone defense in the first half. It turned the ball over 10 times, missed all six of its 3-point tries and failed to score from outside the paint.

The Eagles led 21-14 with 4:23 to go in the second period after two Reed Sparrow free throws following the technical on Connoyer. Flustered by the Raiders’ full-court defensive pressure, they managed only one field goal the rest of the half.

Liberty had 11 turnovers in the first half and 21 overall. Connoyer’s turnaround jumper from the low post and his open bucket from the lane in the final minute and a half enabled QND to pull within 24-22.

“You can’t win ballgames when you turn the ball over that many times,” said Altmix, whose team otherwise shot 59 percent from the field when it maintained possession.

Concentrating on getting Connoyer and Jace Allensworth touches inside facing the basket against the Eagles’ zone at the start of the second half, the Raiders went on a 13-4 run to go up 35-28. Allensworth and Aden Genenbacher combined for three 3-pointers and 11 points to fuel the surge.

“When we get the ball in the middle, that’s when we’re at our best,” Allensworth said. “We found a lot of open shots. Then I think we lost some energy.”

Liberty answered with nine consecutive points of its own, retaking the lead at 37-35 on Tanner Gimm’s 3-point from the top of the key at the 1:27 mark. Gimm, a 6-3 senior, finished with a game-high 21 points.

The Raiders didn’t score from the field over the final four minutes of the quarter, but two free throws by Connoyer with five seconds remaining after the Eagles were whistled for a foul after turning the ball over while playing for the last shot put the visitors up 38-37.

“We’re trying to hold the ball and get a good shot heading into the fourth quarter, and we turn it over and then commit a silly foul,” Altmix said. “That was a big swing.”

The lead changed hands three times in the opening two minutes of the fourth period before Connoyer tied it at 42-all with a layup. Aiden Klauser, cutting along the right baseline, then took a pass from Connoyer and converted a conventional three-point play to put QND ahead for good at 45-42.

The Raiders eventually stretched the margin to seven before Vince Cramsey converted a pass from Gimm into a layup and a spinning Gavin Fessler hit a driving layup with 2:41 to go to pull Liberty within 50-47.

That set the stage for Connoyer and Young to help put the game away.

“That’s a resilient group over there,” Meyer said of the Eagles. “It’s in our scouting report that they’re going to play hard for 32 minutes. We had to try to match their energy. Fortunately, we found a little rhythm in the second half.”

Allensworth finished with 13 points and Klauser 11 for the Raiders, who made five of six 3-point attempts in the second half and shot 51 percent from the field overall. They also made 14 of 20 free throws to help offset 16 turnovers.

In losing its third straight game, Liberty fell to 9-17 overall and 2-6 in league play heading into the final week of the regular season.

“Just when we got close, they had some big threes there at the end of the game that put it out of reach,” Altmix said. “But I thought our guys played hard. We just have to shore up the little mistakes because, as I told them, we don’t want to have this feeling in a week and a half.”

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