On Tuesday the Flames looked to deliver some home cooking against the Lancers of Longwood University. Coming in at 2-4, the Flames shot out of the gates at the Vines Center thanks to the strong play of senior Alex McLean.
McLean scored nine points in the first four minutes of action, putting the Flames ahead 14-2. Junior Anthony Smith put in early work as well, scoring 11 consecutive Liberty points with 11:06 remaining in the half. Longwood, however, cut the lead to nine on a free throw from Ryan Bogan. Liberty then exploded for a 12-2 run, scoring high percentage buckets and stellar defense. The score at the end of the half was 46-27.????
The Flames got their biggest lead of the game, 35 points, with a three by sharpshooting sophomore Kyle Ohman, putting them up 85-50. The Flames controlled the rest of the game, and McLean never let up his offensive onslaught en route to a 91-67 victory.????
???McLean finished with his third double-double of the year, scoring 33 points and grabbing 11 boards, coming short of his career high of 40 points versus VMI last year. Smith tied a career high with 23 points, and his seven made three-pointers tied the record held by former Flame guard Larry Blair. He also tallied his 700th career point.?
Ohman posted 11 points off the bench, and senior guard TeeJay Bannister handed out 11 assists.?Longwood’s high scorer was Billy Robinson Jr., who had 18 points and pulled down nine rebounds.
Liberty shot a scorching 60.7 percent in the second half and shot 57.9 percent for the game. The Liberty defense held the Lancers to 40.7 percent shooting.?????
Four days later the Niagara Purple Eagles visited the Vines Center, recreating the game played in last season’s ESPNU’s BracketBuster series.
The Purple Eagles, a 2007 NCAA Tournament team and defending Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Champions, could not stop Smith’s hot shooting as the junior sank a three-point basket with 23 seconds left to propel Liberty to an 86-81 victory.
After a Stanley Hodge three-pointer got things going for Niagara, the Flames proceeded to go on a 12-0 run, forcing a timeout from Niagara Head Coach Joe Mihalich. After the timeout, Niagara cut the Liberty lead to six, but Liberty responded with an 11-3 run. The Purple Eagles then went on a 13-2 run and tied the game at 29. They later got their first lead 31-29 with three minutes left in the first half. Ohman scored just before the break to put the game at 35-35 at the half.
In the second half, Liberty grabbed the lead and pushed it to 10 at 49-39 with 16 minutes remaining. The lead went back and forth between the teams until the Purple Eagles pushed out to a 76-70 lead with four minutes left to play.
Liberty cut the lead to one with an innovative play from sophomore B.J. Jenkins, who faked a pass to Ohman and drove into the lane for the layup, getting fouled in the process. Jenkins missed the free throw but cut the lead to 78-77.
With the lead at 78-77 in Niagara’s favor, Jenkins was fouled on Liberty’s next possession by Niagara leading scorer Charron Fisher. The foul, which was his fifth, forced him out of the game. With their leading scorer out, the Purple Eagles struggled to score for the rest of the game. They came down the court and missed a layup that was rebounded by Ohman with 30 seconds left, setting the stage for Smith’s go-ahead three.
On the biggest play of the game, Bannister handed the ball off to Smith, who came off a double screen. He elevated and drilled a three-pointer from the top of the key to put Liberty up 80-78.
On the final full play of the game, Niagara’s Tyrone Lewis tried to score on a layup but was blocked by Ohman. McLean pulled in the rebound and sealed the deal for the Flames. Liberty also shot five more free throws, including those of a double technical, called on Mihalich, putting the score at 86-78.
Liberty shot an astounding 71.4 percent in the second half and finished with a 61.7 percent shooting effort. Niagara shot 42.4 percent for the game. Jenkins led all scorers with 24 points. Bannister had 16 points and dished out seven assists while Smith and senior Rell Porter added 14 points apiece. McLean added 12 points and eight boards as Liberty evened its record up at 4-4 on the season. Fisher led the Purple Eagles with 22 points and six rebounds.
Liberty wraps up its current three-game home stand with a game on Tuesday when Presbyterian visits the Vines Center. Tip-off is set for 8:15, immediately following the Lady Flames game against James Madison University.
Contact Jeffrey Scott at email@example.com.