Dec 8, 2009

Men’s basketball winning streak snapped by Coastal

by Axel Cerny

At the start of the 2009-2010 season there were many questions about Liberty men’s basketball team. The team had lost its top two scorers and brought in a new head coach with some coaching roots in the Liberty program. There was uncertainty about how the new look Flames would play this year, but one thing was for certain: the team would feature 11 underclassmen. Whether on the sideline or on the court, that makes for one of the youngest teams that Liberty has had in years. Fans may have seen some of the growing pains for this team this past week.

Liberty opened up the doors of the Vine Center to the Big South, playing its first conference games against Charleston Southern Thursday and then hosting Coastal Carolina Saturday evening. Those who watched both of these games, may have wondered whether it was the same team that played both Thursday and Saturday. There was a stark contrast in play between the Flames team that harnessed the Buccaneers of Charleston Southern Thursday, handing them a 69-53 loss, and a squad that suffered a 73-58 smashing at the hands of the Chanticleers of Coastal Carolina Saturday.

Thursday evening, the Liberty men opened up Big South Conference play against Charleston Southern on the coattails of two straight wins to conclude the Chicago Invitational Challenge. The Buccaneers came out the gate fighting, scoring the first five points of the game, but Liberty fought right back with a 7-0 run of its own, thanks to baskets from Evan Gordon, Kyle Ohman and Patrick Konan. Liberty and Charleston Southern jockeyed back and forth until around the 12-minute mark, when the young Flames began to catch fire from behind the arc, stretching their lead out to a 29-16 advantage. The Buccaneers would cut the lead to three at the half, heading into the intermission down 30-27.

The second half would be almost all Flames, though, as freshman Evan Gordon led the way with a 21-point effort followed by Kyle Ohman, who tallied 16 on the game. Liberty would only extend its lead throughout the half, ending the game with a 69-53 victory and 1-0 record in the Big South. Jamarco Warren led the way for Charleston Southern with 17 points.

Head Coach Dale Layer said after Saturday night’s game against Coastal Carolina that Liberty’s freshman sensation of last year, Seth Curry, “is not your normal freshman.” Flames fans may need to consider the fact that they may have been spoiled last year with such young scoring talent. After Liberty’s 73-58 defeat at the hands of the Chanticleers, Coach Layer made it clear that, “our freshman played like freshman ... and that’s who they are.”

Things looked good at the start, as it seemed that Evan Gordon might look to add to his 21-point performance of a few nights before, as he netted the first basket for the Flames. Just moments later, sophomore point guard Jesse Sanders drained a three to make it 5-2, but Coastal Carolina countered with a three-pointer of its own. Liberty kept it a tight game until around the nine-minute mark when they trailed 22-19. From there, the Chanticleers went on a 9-0 run and closed out the half with a 37-25 lead over the Flames. One of the biggest stories of the first half, and eventually of the game, was field goal percentage and the Chanticleers were on fire from behind the three-point line, shooting 5-of-11 from downtown in the first half, while Liberty made just 1-of-8 three-point attempts.

Liberty showed intensity through the second half, but made timely mistakes, especially with many wide-open layups missed. The Chanticleers did not slow down, however, as three of their players ended the evening with 16 points. The most effective of these players in the second half was South Carolina transfer Chad Gray, who scored his 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field. Gray said, “They were giving me the shot, so I took it.”

Unfortunately for the Flames, Coastal Carolina’s players did not miss many of the shots they took, as they ended the evening shooting 51.9 percent from the field.

“They played hard, had athletic maturity and poise about them,” Layer said of the visiting Chanticleers.

On the other hand, Liberty missed 12 layups on the night and shot 37 percent on the evening.

Hopefully what fans are seeing from the Flames is a young team that is picking up experience as they go along. It is a long season in the world of college basketball, hopefully long enough for efforts like that of Evan Gordon against Charleston Southern to change from an aberration to consistency.

Contact Axel Cerny at
axelcerny@gmail.com.
 


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