Losing streak extended to six

The Flames failed to capitalize on an oppurtunity to end their prolonged skid

The Liberty Flames men’s basketball team (9-18, 3-9 Big South) slowed the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) Keydets (15-10, 8-4 Big South), the nation’s highest-scoring offense, Saturday, Feb. 15 but could not stop them when it counted, dropping the contest 77-70.

ROUGH PATCH — Missed free throws doomed Liberty. Photo credit: Leah Stauffer

ROUGH PATCH — Missed free throws doomed Liberty. Photo credit: Leah Stauffer

The leading freshman scorer in the country, VMI guard QJ Peterson, slashed through the lane for the go-ahead lay-up with 56.8 seconds left, unknotting a 68-all tie. Keydets forward D.J. Covington followed Peterson’s bucket by swatting guard John Caleb Sanders’ layup attempt the next possession, putting the Keydets up for good.

The six-foot tall Peterson, who averages 20.8 points per game, scored 18 points and grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds and notched a highlight-reel, fast-break block on Flames forward Antwan Burrus. Covington added 12 boards of his own, along with 12 points and three blocks. Keydets guard Rodney Glasgow scored a game-high 25 points and handed out a game-high seven assists.

The Flames held the Keydets well under their 90.2 points-per-game average but missed opportunities at the free throw line all night, converting only six times from the line on 17 tries. Conversely, the Keydets went 15-17 from the charity stripe.

“I think Stevie Wonder could see that (free throws were the biggest difference maker),” Flames Head Coach Dale Layer said. “When you’re shooting 72 percent from the free throw line (on the season) and end up with a 6-17 night, it’s disappointing, because that’s certainly the game.”

Layer tinkered with the starting lineup for the third time in four games in an effort to snap a five-game losing streak, benching season-long starter Davon Marshall for Joe Retic. Marshall, who was shooting 31 percent from the field on the season, responded to his new role by finding his shot, scoring 10 points on 4-9 shooting. Retic had nine points and dished out four assists in his first start of the year.

Layer was not committed to keeping Retic in the starting lineup, but said he liked the way Marshall played coming off the bench.

“It was different catching the feel and the vibe of the game (coming off the bench), but in the second half, I feel like I caught it,” Marshall said. “It motivated me to go play harder.”

Burrus was a bright spot for the Flames offensively, starting strong by scoring eight of the team’s first 12 points and finishing with a team-high 23. Sanders and Marshall were the only other Flames to tally double figures with 11 and 10, respectively. Andrew Smith and Retic had nine apiece.

VMI, who the Flames beat 85-80 earlier in the year, went into the half with a 33-26 lead, and led by as much as 12 in the second half before a 12-0 Flames run deadlocked the score, which remained close until the final few seconds.

“Everybody was like, ‘We can’t let this happen again’ (after going down 12 early in the second half), especially after the last performance against Gardner-Webb,” Burrus said.

The Flames will attempt to break a six-game losing streak, their longest slump of the season, Wednesday, Feb. 19 when they travel to face Big South North Divison co-leader High Point at 7 p.m.

“We just gotta keep practicing hard, because if you give up, you don’t have a chance of winning,” Burrus said. “You keep going hard and if it turns around, it turns around.”

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