Dec 5, 2006

Mens basketball pillages East Carolina

by Dave Thompson
Coming off three straight wins by a margin of 30 points or better, the Liberty men’s basketball team faced a formidable foe Saturday.

The Flames were hit with an early barrage of points from the Pirates of East Carolina, but in the end managed to hold them off 64-56.

After the first seven minutes of play, the Flames faced a 17-3 deficit.

Liberty’s first point came from a free throw by Anthony Smith to put the score at 3-1.
However, the Pirates controlled the ball for the next several minutes and went ahead 11-1.
With the score 17-3, guard Larry Blair put up a jump shot with 10:37 left on the clock to put Liberty within 12 points.

Two minutes later, Russell Monroe broke away and put in a crowd-pleasing dunk, which was the only dunk by either team and his only points of the game.

“We could have easily folded,” said Blair. “We just trusted in each other. We played defense (and) just waited until the ball started going in the hole.”

After trailing by 14 points, the rest of the half played out evenly as the Flames headed into halftime down only 26-21.

“The game’s played in the first half and won in the second,” Liberty Head Coach Randy Dunton told his team at halftime, “so now it’s a matter of who’s going to come out, and who’s going to execute.”
A trio of players emerged in the second half, each at least tripling his point outputs from the first and giving the Flames the boost they needed.

Blair, after leaving the first half with only four points, finished with 15 points in the 38 minutes he played — several of those coming on matches where the defender was, quite literally, over his head.
Forward Alex McLean also proved himself a valuable contributor to Liberty’s offense and defense.
In his 34 minutes on the floor, McLean scored 17 points and had 11 rebounds, eight of which came off the defensive boards.

Dunton admitted that his team was having trouble, especially with the defensive rebound, but McLean effectively remedied that problem in Saturday’s game.

The third major sparkplug in the Flames’ win came from the bench.

Guard B.J. Jenkins played only 21 minutes of the game but came away with 12 points and was six for seven from the free-throw line.
But perhaps Jenkins’ most significant contribution to the game came in a two-and-a-half minute span in the second half. During the run, Jenkins stole the ball three times, gaining two lay-ups and an assist for his efforts.

“We weren’t going to let anybody come into our house and blow us out like that,” said Jenkins. “I look at Justin Holland (who had six rebounds in the game) and me as the microwaves – we come in (and)…heat it up (by getting) the steal or the rebound.”

“This locker room’s full of tough kids, and B.J.’s one of the toughest mentally,” said Dunton.
He added that Jenkins began to contribute more since he had become established at one position.
“I had the kid trying to play two different positions…trying to figure out who he is.…(Then) finally I said, ‘Hey, this is what you’re going to do.’ From that moment on, he has really taken a big step forward.”

In addition to second-half breakouts, the game came down to the free-throw line.

Neither team was exceptional, but Liberty outscored East Carolina by seven points at the line, ending with a 56.7 free-throw percentage to the Pirates 37 percent.

Had the teams been even in free throws, the margin would have been slimmed to a single point and would have most likely been a drastically different game.

Since losing to Big 12 power Oklahoma to open the season, the Flames (4-1) are riding a modest four-game winning streak.

They hosted St. Francis at home on Monday night, but at press time no score was available. Liberty will host Longwood University on Dec. 9 in the Vines Center at 7 p.m.

Contact Dave Thompson at dbthompson@liberty.edu.


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