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Flames Close Out San Juan Shootout With Victory Over Host Puerto Rico - Mayaguez
Strong openings in both the first and second halves propelled the Flames to a 74-60 victory over host Puerto Rico – Mayaguez in the seventh place game of the San Juan Shootout, Wednesday morning, at the Mario Morales Coliseum.
Anthony Smith (Fr., G, Plano, Texas) took a pass from Larry Blair (Jr., G, Charlotte, N.C.) just eight seconds into the contest, while a dunk and another three-pointer by the freshman gave the Flames an 8-2 lead at the 18:25 mark.
The Flames pushed their lead to as much as 11 points, 18-7, on a lay-up by Blair five minutes later, but UPR–Mayaguez turned things around as the host team outscored the Flames 18-7 over the next seven minutes of action and tied the game at 25-25 on a lay-up by Pedro Colon at the 6:12 mark.
The two teams traded the lead back and forth over the next four minutes until Paul Arroyo nailed a three-pointer with 2:13 left to play before the break to give UPR–Mayaguez a three-point lead, 34-31. Damien Hubbard (Jr., F, Boyce, Va.) converted on one of two free throw attempts just 50 seconds later, while Eric Bigby (Jr., F, Meade, Va.) pulled down an offensive rebound and put it back as the buzzer sounded to knot the score at 34-34 at the break.
As in the first half, Liberty started off strong to open up the second as a three-pointer by Hubbard capped off an 8-1 run to give the Flames a 42-35 lead with 17:25 left to play. Back-to-back lay-ups by Mario Mihalik and Williset Del Valle trimmed the lead back to three points, but the Flames scored 13 of the game's next 18 points to open up a double-digit lead on a jumper by Smith at the 11:25 mark.
UPR–Mayaguez was able to trim the lead back to single digits on a few different occasions, including on a three-pointer by Loarnel Rosario with 5:10 left to play to cut the lead to 66-58, but the Flames outscored UPR–Mayaguez, 8-2, over the rest of the contest to seal the victory.
"We were able to battle through some adversity today and come out with a victory," commented Liberty head coach Randy Dunton. "I think we had a good start to both the first and second halves and we were able to grind through the rest of the contest against a very motivated host team."
"We came here and outrebounded and outshot all three of our opponents and there are certainly several positives to take away from an event like this. We have a very young team and positive stats like these will help us as we head into conference play."
Four of Liberty's five starters finished in double figures with Smith leading the way as he poured in 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field, including 2-of-4 from three-point range, while adding six rebounds. Hubbard followed with 15 points, five rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots, while Blair and Russell Monroe (So., C, Alma, Mich.) followed with 13 and 12 points each.
Arroyo and Mihalik both came off the bench to lead UPR–Mayaguez with 12 points each, while Pedro Colon added nine points and five rebounds.
The Flames finished the contest with their third-straight game in which they outrebounded their opponent, including a 45-28 edge against UPR–Mayaguez, while Liberty eclipsed the 40 percent mark from the field for the seventh-straight game by shooting 45.5 percent from the floor (30-of-66) against the host school.
The contest marked the Flames' final game before the brief Christmas Break as Liberty will return to the court when they conclude a five-game road swing with a December 29th game in Lake Charles, La., against McNeese State. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. (EST) at Burton Coliseum.