WAYNESBORO, Ga. - Richmond Academy coach Steve Nobles paused for a second when asked how to describe how his team played Friday night.
He took the time to polish up the language that expressed his initial thought of the Region 3-AAA boys semifinal game against Liberty County.
"We just punked out in the first half," Nobles said. "We didn't bring the fire. Liberty County played good hard-nosed physical defense in the first half. We simply didn't match that and it cost us."
That just about sums up an 80-76 setback. Liberty County (23-3) out-scored Nobles' team by 13 in the first half. The Musketeers were seven points better than Liberty in the second half, despite shooting 14 out of 24 from the foul line.
But the rally came too late.
"We didn't come at them hard early," Richmond Academy senior Loce Hill said. "Coach is right to say something like we punked out. We played the first half soft and the second half strong. If we played the game like that, I think we beat those boys by 10 points."
Liberty was a tough obstacle to in that first half. Guard Anthony Miller scored 10 points in the first quarter on the way to a 22-point night. Guard Barry Drummond scored 14 in the second quarter on his way to 29 points of his own.
"I was worried," Liberty County coach Willie Graham said. "Richmond is a fine team and one of the top five teams we've seen. We don't play teams like that night-in-and-out in our half of the subregion. We've only had to extend ourselves like tonight in five or six of our games this year."
An invigorated Richmond Academy team (20-5) regrouped in the second half.
Senior Renard James scored 16 of his 25 points in the second half, with nine of those during the third quarter.
But the closest the Musketeers could slice the lead down to was two points on two different occasions in the final five minutes.
Liberty County kept swishing its free throws along the second half. The Panthers finished the night 19 of 23 from the line.
"Even with us punking out in the first half we did enough to make this a different game if we hit our free throws," Nobles said.
But the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Hill carried more than his own weight. Hill had 11 points in the first half and 24 for the game while mixing it up in the post with the Panthers holding at least four and five more inches on him in height.
"Loce's just one of those savvy ballplayers," Nobles said. "He's all guts and craftiness. He kinda plays like an old man out there. But a very effective old man."
Richmond will play the loser of the Butler-Hephzibah semifinal for third place in the region at 5:30 p.m. today.
The loss means the Musketeers will go on the road for the first round of the state tournament next Friday.