Mar 4, 2008

Men's basketball soars over Highlanders in regualr season closer

by Jeff Scott

The Liberty Flames basketball team split the final two home games of the season, falling to Virginia Military Institute (VMI) on Feb. 26 and defeating Radford University this past Saturday.
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Liberty started slow last Tuesday against VMI, missing six consecutive shots to open the half. The Flames offense started to click, though, with three consecutive Kyle Ohman three-pointers, cutting the lead to 32-31 with 3:48 left in the first. VMI closed out the first half with a tip-in at the buzzer to lead 41-36.
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The Flames shot 15-for-33 in the first half, good for 45.5 percent from the field, while the Keydets shot 15-for-28 for 53.6 percent.
Liberty grabbed its first lead of the game in the second half when they surged ahead 49-46. The Flames maintained control for most of the second half until VMI’s Reggie Williams scored on one of his numerous and-one buckets, tying the game at 73 with three minutes left. VMI then took the lead with 37.3 seconds left and held on to hand the Flames and 81-79 setback.
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Junior Anthony Smith and senior Alex McLean led the way in scoring for the Flames with 23 and 20 points, respectively. Meanwhile, Williams slipped through the Flames defense and showed why he is second in the nation in scoring (27.1 per game), putting up 34 points in the win.
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On Saturday the Flames looked to keep up in the tight race for home court advantage heading into the Big South Conference Tournament and avenge a one-point loss at in-state rival Radford earlier this season. The contest also served as senior night for Alex McLean, Russell Monroe, Rell Porter and point guard Tee Jay Bannister.
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From the beginning of the game, Radford was on the attack, blasting out to a 9-0 run in the first five minutes of play and playing a physical game. Liberty’s first bucket came from a B.J. Jenkins long ball. Ohman also capitalized on an open shot, making the score 11-6 with 15:55 remaining in the first half.
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adford established good ball movement and found a streaking Joey Lynch-Flohr to put the score at 13-6. An extremely physical player, Lynch-Flohr had his way inside for most of the first half, using a wide array of post moves to score 12 points.
Jenkins then slashed to the hole on two separate occasions, making the score 14-10. He then led the fast break and hit an open Anthony Smith for an easy layup to cut the lead to two, 14-12, with 11:37 minutes left in the opening half. 
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The physical play continued when Radford’s Martell McDuffy and Jenkins got into a scuffle in front of the Liberty bench. After the scuffle was broken up, double technical fouls were assessed after officials reviewed the replays.
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Freshman Nathan Campbell was ejected for coming off the bench and going onto the court during the scuffle. Play resumed after about five minutes of discussion between the officials and coaches.
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“It was a dogfight,” Smith said. “Tempers got a little flared, it was already a rivalry, and we had to win this game, so there were a lot of emotions.”
“It was a very physical game; it felt like a postseason game,” coach Ritchie McKay.
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Liberty and Radford exchanged two-point leads most of the half. Two shots from Jenkins at the charity stripe put the lead back up to three with a minute left.  He then got a quick steal and bucket, pushing the score at 33-28 at the end of the first.
Smith led the way for the Flames in the first half, tallying 13 points while Jenkins followed close behind with 12.
In the second half, Liberty came out energized by the continued hustle of Jenkins. McLean notched his first points of the night on a put-back, and Jenkins followed with a driving layup to push the score to 37-28.
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The Flames grabbed their first double-digit lead at 52-40 when Ohman was fouled on a shot by Lynch-Flohr then shoved to the ground by Philip Martin. Martin was assessed a technical foul, and Ohman went on to sink all four free throws.
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Despite a late rally from the Highlanders, Liberty held on for a 78-71 win and secured the No. 4 seed and a showdown with VMI in the opening round of the Big South Tournament for the second consecutive year.
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Smith erupted for a career-high 29 points, nailing five of  his eight shots from downtown.
Jenkins contributed 18 points off the bench, and his defensive play and hustle was a major factor in the win. When asked about his performance, Jenkins was straightforward.
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“I’m not the superstar, but I’m not a role player,” Jenkins said. “I can do everything, so whatever my team needs at the time, I just try to help them out.”
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Liberty will host VMI in the first round of the Advance Auto Parts Big South Tournament on Tuesday evening. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
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Contact Jeff Scott at jdscott@liberty.edu


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