Feb 3, 2009

Flames Winning Week Puts Them Back On Track

by Axel Cerny

The Liberty Flames men’s basketball team bounced back this week following last Saturday’s double overtime loss to Radford, picking up two decisive conference wins against High Point on Tuesday night and UNC-Asheville on Saturday.

Coming into Tuesday night’s game against High Point (5-15, 1-9 Big South Conference), the Flames (16-7, 7-4 Big South Conference) found themselves right in the thick of conference play and in need of a win after the Radford loss.

The night was cold and icy night outside the Vines Center, but inside the Flames came out on fire, shooting 4-of-5 from three-point land to start out the game, capitalizing on a zone defense from High Point. However, on the other end, Liberty began by giving up some open three-point looks that the High Point Panthers gladly took advantage of, as guard Eugene Harris came off the bench to promptly go 3-for-3 from beyond the arc.

The back and forth shootout found itself at 29-27 in favor of the Flames with 7:29 to go in the first half, when junior Kyle Ohman sparked an impressive 16-2 run, with seven points, two assists, two rebounds and a block to close out the half 45-29 in favor of the Flames.

Though the first half saw seven early lead changes, there would be no more after halftime, as Liberty continued to knock down shots and closed out the game with a 78-63 advantage.

The entire Flames bench got into the action as Liberty stretched its lead out to 24 at one point in the second half. Ohman matched a career high with 26 points, while freshman point guard Jesse Sanders tallied nine assists and nine rebounds, all of those assists coming in a first half in which Sanders did not turn the ball over once.

Senior Anthony Smith, who finished with 21 points, said after the game that Sanders first half was, “probably the best first half I’ve seen from a point guard in a long time.”

Coach McKay attributed tearing apart the High Point zone to a strong team effort.

“When you make baskets that takes a whole lot of pressure of the defense...and we’re a shooting team,” McKay said.

Saturday evening saw the UNC-Asheville Bulldogs (9-13, 5-6 Big South Conference) step foot in a packed Vines Center, as thousands of fans looked for revenge against an Asheville team that blew out the Flames in November, a game that was televised on ESPN.

The Flames opened up the game with in a half court trap that helped them maintain a small lead for most of the first 10 minutes. With 11:47 left to play, the game stood at 11-8 in favor of Liberty, but Bulldog point guard J.P. Primm knocked down a three-pointer to tie the game up.
Liberty guard Johnny Stephene then took over the game off the bench, scoring eight points in the next three minutes giving Liberty a shot in the arm that would lead them to a 43-27 cushion by the end of the first half.
The Flames never lost the lead in the second half, but things did get awfully tight in the second half.

Coach McKay said he had told his team at halftime that, “This is a good Asheville team and they are going to come back.” And come back they did.
Junior guard Sean Smith, who hails from Stockholm, Sweden, led a furious Asheville second half comeback by going 5-of-6 from three-point range in the half and 8-of-12 from long distance for the game, finishing with a game high 28 points.

The Bulldogs brought it all the way back within two (63-61) with 3:38 to play, but that was as close as they would get as the Flames hit from the free throw line down the stretch and pulled out the win, 78-66.

“We didn’t play our best game, but we played well enough to win,” said Sanders, who finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
In the win, freshman Seth Curry eclipsed the mark for most points ever in a season by a Big South Conference freshman (466). The win brings the Flames record to 16-7 overall, and 7-4 in the Big South, and moves the team into sole possession of third place in the conference with seven games remaining in the regular season.

Liberty will travel to Gardner-Webb on Wednesday night for a 7 p.m. showdown with the Bulldogs before returning home on Saturday night for a game against Winthrop.

Contact Axel Cerny at

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