Feb 12, 2008

Flames rout first place UNC-Asheville 83-54

by Jeff Scott & Jen Slothower
Before the Liberty men’s basketball team pulled off an improbable victory over first place UNC-Asheville on Saturday night, the team was dealt its second straight loss at the hands of the High Point Panthers.

The Flames only led once during the game, when the score was 22-21. The Panthers then went on a run to go up 36-28. Liberty shot poorly in the first half, only shooting 11-for-28, but the team did hit 50 percent from beyond the arc, going five-for-10. High Point hit 51.9 percent of its shots in the first half (14-for-27) and hit half of its three-point attempts as well, going 6-for-12. Liberty turned the ball over seven times, compared to High Point’s four.

The second half saw a slew of three-point shots as six were made to open the half, yet Liberty could not cut into the lead as the score increased to 51-40. An Arizona Reid layup halted the streak of three-pointers made with 11:44 left to go in the game. The closest Liberty came to evening the score was 55-48, after an Alex McLean put-back with 7:35 remaining. The Panthers then closed the game on a 12-1 run to seal the victory.

The Flames continued to struggle from the floor and ended the game shooting 19-for-53, good for 35.8 percent. They also shot 9-of-24 from long range. High Point finished shooting 26-for-50 from the floor, and shot a scorching 45 percent from three-point range (9-for-20).

Liberty was led in scoring by McLean, who had 19 points and also grabbed 13 rebounds. Junior Anthony Smith dropped in 13 points. Reid led the Panthers, scoring 23 points and ripping down 11 boards. High Point guard Mike Jefferson put in 16 points and dropped eight dimes.

On Saturday, the Flames looked to get back to their winning ways against the conference leading UNC-Asheville Bulldogs at the Vines Center. The arrival of the Bulldogs meant the heralding of 7’7” center Kenny George and a jam-packed Vines Center of 6,566 Liberty students and Lynchburg natives alike hoping to catch a glimpse of the tallest player in college basketball. Fans would be disappointed, though, as George suited up but did not play a single minute in the game.

Liberty looked to avenge a close loss in January and shot out of the gates. The Flames opened the game with a 9-0 run and held the Bulldogs scoreless for the first five minutes. The dry spell was broken by a free throw with 14:32 remaining in the half, putting the score at 12-1. Shortly after the Bulldogs scored their first field goal, they got a three-pointer from guard Sean Smith. UNC-Asheville then went on a spurt and cut the deficit to four, 16-12. Neither team could pull away, and the first half closed at 31-29, in Liberty’s favor.

UNC-Asheville kept up the energy for the beginning of the second half, trading buckets with Liberty. Back-to-back scores by sophomore guard B.J. Jenkins, a three-pointer from freshman Jeremy Anderson, and slashing drives from senior guard Tee Jay Bannister helped Liberty pull away.

The Flames grabbed their first 20-point lead of the game with a tip-in from McLean with 3:29 remaining. The reserves then went to work and sealed the deal for Liberty, 83-54.

Liberty ended the game shooting 33-for-58 from the floor (56.9 percent). The team shot a formidable 42 percent from downtown, going 8-for-19. The Bulldogs shot 19-for-58 from the floor, good for 32.8 percent. ““Defensively, we were really unselfish,” McLean said. “We had each other’s backs better than we have all year. We know this was a real turning point in our season. We just came out with a mindset to just lock down today.”

Five Flames players scored in double figures. Smith led the way with 18 points while McLean notched another double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Jenkins filled the stat sheet, following close behind with 13 points and a career high nine boards to go along with eight assists and five steals.

“He (Jenkins) was great tonight,” Head Coach Ritchie McKay said. “If there was a Pop Tart player of the game, he was it. He’s a hard worker, and he has great potential to lead. If he continues to evolve as a player and a leader, Liberty basketball is going to be pretty good.”

The Flames look to stay undefeated at home as they play host to the Winthrop Eagles on Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. before hitting the road for a Saturday, Feb. 16 showdown at Coastal Carolina. Contact Jeff Scott at jdscott@liberty.edu.
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