Feb 16, 2010

Flames pick up split, ready for Radford

by Axel Cerny

If you are looking for a good definition of grit, it would be worth your while to come to the Vines Center on Tuesday night and watch the Liberty Flames men’s basketball team play host to the Radford Highlanders.

In fact, head coach Dale Layer is asking you to come show your support. After Saturday evening’s win against Gardner-Webb, Layer said on the Flames Sports Network’s radio post-game show, “They’re (Gardner-Webb) bigger than us, they’re more experienced than us, they’re stronger than us. We’re going to have to play a perfect game. We’d love to have a great crowd on Tuesday night in hopes of upsetting them again.”

This Flames team is, no doubt, less experienced than Liberty teams of the last few years, but what they lack in experience, they have certainly learned to make up for in effort. This week’s two games on the road in North Carolina exemplified just what the Liberty men are all about under new head coach Layer. They are young, at times over-matched, but gritty as can be.

Playing on the road in college basketball is recognized as one of the toughest environments in college sports, but the Flames were ready to fight this past week as they nearly stole a game from the UNC-Asheville Bulldogs before knocking off Gardner Webb, 68-57, in Boiling Springs, N.C. to end the weekend road trip.

The first North Carolina matchup for Liberty last week came against a much more experienced UNC-Asheville team. After losing the first showdown between the two teams on Jan. 14 in a close one at the Vines Center, 74-70, the Flames were hoping to return the favor by beating the Bulldogs on their home court. However, Liberty dropped another extremely close game, 75-72.
“Take away the first eight minutes and 15-20 seconds, I thought we outplayed them,” Layer said on the Flames Sports Network’s radio post-game show.

With 11:30 left in the first half, the Flames found themselves down 18-8.

Senior Kyle Ohman, playing in his first game since he went down with a wrist injury on Jan. 16, was able to keep things from getting out of hand in the first half by going on a seven-point scoring outburst before the end of the first half to cut the Asheville lead to 37-25 going into the locker room.

Using some home court momentum to start the second half, the Bulldogs stretched out their lead to 16, but the Flames chipped away at that deficit all the way to the end of regulation. With 4:07 left in the contest, freshman Evan Gordon knocked down three of his game-high 16 points to cut the lead to 66-64.

“I don’t think we were aggressive early, but we sure were late, especially in a hostile environment,” Layer said.

The final four minutes were a dogfight, and in the closing seconds, Jeremy Anderson got a good look from beyond the arc to send it into overtime, but missed, as the Flames fell 75-72.

“I was extremely proud of our team. It was a really good college basketball game, but unfortunately we came up a little bit short,” Layer said.

With just a day to recuperate and prepare for Gardner-Webb, the Flames took the three-hour trip west to Boiling Springs, where they would square off in the Paul Porter Arena on Saturday.

Though the Running Bulldogs of Gardner-Webb have posted an unimpressive 7-17 record on the season, Layer said, “There’s no easy win anywhere on the road in college basketball.”

Liberty seemed to ignore the unfamiliar environment to start out the contest as they jumped out to a 12-5 lead in the first five minutes. Gardner- Webb battled back, though, taking a lead of their own, 16-14, with 10 minutes remaining in the first half. The rest of the half went back and forth until the first half horn, which found the Running Bulldogs ahead 31-28.

The second half was highlighted by outstanding guard play from Anderson and Gordon, who both finished the game with 17 points. Anderson, in particular, hit timely three-pointer after three-pointer in the second period. With 8:03 left to go in the contest, Liberty was still down 56-50, but refusing to roll over on the road. The Flames went on a 19-5 run to close out the game to pick up the win, 69-61.

Ohman contributed some important minutes for the Flames in his second game back, going 4-of-8 from the field, finishing with 12 points.

The win moves Liberty to 13-13 on the season, with an 8-6 record in the Big South. Gardner Webb fell to 7-18 and 4-11 in conference play. The Flames will play host to the third place in team in the Big South when Radford comes to town Tuesday night. You can bet that Layer will be looking up to the stands for some support for this Liberty Flames team that has been giving everything they have to make a late season run heading into the Big South Tournament in March.

Contact Axel Cerny
at axelcerny@liberty.edu.

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