Feb 23, 2010

Men’s basketball game ends on a high point

by Daniel Martinez

Kyle Ohman hit the floor wincing.

The senior guard started the game blazing hot, snatching the basketball for the game’s first possession, scoring the game’s first four points and looking like a man possessed — like a man who deserved a standing ovation and an honorary plaque paying tribute to his four years of service to the Flames.

Then he took a hard elbow in the right eye and was knocked to the floor with 16:30 left in the first half. Red-faced and in pain, he made his way to the free throw line for foul shots.

For the nearly 5,000 fans in the Vines Center, Liberty’s last home contest of the season was an edge-of-your-seat contest was, and in some ways, over too soon.

It was too soon because the Flames’ hard-fought 76-67 win helped erase memories of the grueling 74-69 loss to the Radford Highlanders.

It was bound to be a special night after the pre-game show, in which Liberty honored its two seniors, Ohman and Tyler Baker, a 6-9 forward who suffered an season-ending ACL tear during Nov. 19’s contest against Old Dominion University.

Ohman, who made the second free throw of the elbow-in-the-eye series for his fifth point of the game, erupted for a career-high 39 points, which marked the sixth-highest total by any Liberty player.

“He absolutely controlled the game,” Flames Head Coach Dale Layer said. “He was virtually unstoppable in the second half.”

“He’s one of those guys that leads by example,” sophomore guard Jesse Sanders said, referring to not only his teammate’s points but also Ohman’s 10 rebounds, two steals and one block.

Ohman’s play could scarcely have come at a better time, as the Flames were at home, coming off a loss to Radford, and facing High Point for the first time since the 81-53 loss to the Panthers on the road Jan. 21.

Thanks to Ohman’s aggressiveness, the Flames got off to a fast start, achieving leads of 4-0 and 6-2, before High Point tied it at 7-7. Then High Point forward Corey Law made a lay-up and to make it 9-7. Flames forward Patrick Konan then scored for Liberty to tie things up at 9-9.

Though Liberty fought hard, the Panthers started pulling away, ending the half with a score of 38-29. The purple-and-black visitors passed fast and often, fought for every rebound and loose ball and found ways to score, even with High Point’s standout guard Nick Barbour, who scored 24 points on Liberty in the Jan. 21 contest, being shut down to three points.

“They were coming in and having their way doing what they wanted to do inside,” Ohman said. “We knew we had to be a lot more physical.”

Layer called the game’s second half the “turning point” and said the defense and rebounding of the entire squad was the game’s key.

“Kyle could have hit 45 or 50 points and (we could still have lost) if we didn’t do what we did on the (defensive) end,” Layer said.

Freshman forward Antwan Burrus, shrugged off a difficult first half by grabbing 10 rebounds. Sanders wrestled for every rebound and loose ball and kept the Flames passing game alive with four assists. Freshman guard Evan Gordon scored 13 points, making Saturday’s contest his fifth-consecutive game scoring in double digits.
Ohman set Liberty records for most free throw attempts (25) and most made free throws (18) in a single game. It was on free throws that he tied his career high of 38 with 52.9 seconds left, and passed it by making the first of another two attempts with 19.7 seconds left.

“I was trying to get the big 4-0, because it’s better to tell someone you got 40 instead of 39. But I’m still happy we got the win, and I’m happy with the way I played tonight,” Ohamn said.

The win boosted Liberty to 9-7 in Big South Conference games, and Liberty held the Panthers to 41.4 percent shooting. Guard Eugene Harris led High Point with 17 points, and Barbour finished with 13.

The sight was easier on the Flames’ eyes than the previous Monday night, when they fought to the end in a similarly tight game, but were ultimately outdone by the Radford Highlanders.
Radford’s 6-foot 11-inch center Art Parakhouski was a particular problem, scoring 25 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. The Flames were led by Gordon’s 17 points and also got a terrific effort from Konan (16 points, 7-for-9 shooting), but were simply no match for the size and strength of Radford.

The last two games of Liberty’s regular season are on the road, starting with Thursday’s contest against Coastal Carolina, who sit atop the conference standings.

Contact Daniel Martinez
at dpmartinez@liberty.edu.

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