The No. 11 seed Liberty men's basketball team squared off with No. 6 seed UNC Asheville in the 2015 VisitMyrtleBeach.com Big South Championship first round, Wednesday, looking to avenge its regular-season finale loss to the Bulldogs. Unfortunately for the Flames, Asheville leading scorer Andrew Rowsey was able to find the basket often, scoring 34 points to lead the higher seed to an 80-70 victory in The HTC Center.
Liberty concludes the 2014-15 campaign with an 8-24 record (2-16 Big South). Asheville moves to 15-15 (10-8 Big South) on the year and will square off with No. 3 seed and tournament host Coastal Carolina on Friday at 8 p.m., live on ESPN3.
Junior forward David Andoh led Liberty with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
Senior forward Andrew Smith finished with 16 points to close out his collegiate career with 737 points. Smith's point total places him at 37th all-time on Liberty's scoring list. The Pompano Beach, Fla., native also grabbed nine boards against the Bulldogs to finish 12th on the program's rebounding list with 558 rebounds.
Freshman guard Ryan Kemrite and junior guard/forward Theo Johnson rounded out Liberty's double-digit scorers with 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Along with Rowsey, David Robertson chipped in 14 points for the Bulldogs, followed by Sam Hughes with 12.
Asheville shot 49.0 percent (24-of-49) on the night, including 52.9 percent (9-of-17) from three-point land. The Bulldogs also went 23-of-30 (76.7 percent) at the charity stripe.
Liberty concluded the evening at 43.1 percent shooting (25-of-48). Despite the Flames outscoring Asheville in the paint, 32-22, the Bulldogs converted Liberty's 18 turnovers into 23 points.
Liberty and Asheville remained within one possession of each other for the majority of the opening period. The Flames jumped out to a four-point lead early, but the Bulldogs quickly closed the gap, taking the lead off a Rowsey three-pointer at 15:48. Smith countered 15 ticks later, connecting on a layup to make it 8-8.
With the contest tied again off another Smith basket at the 13:19 mark, Liberty tacked on four free throws to take a 16-12 lead. Rowsey ended Liberty's six-point burst with another trey to pull the Bulldogs within one. After an Andoh jumper, Hughes swished a three of his own at 9:43 to knot the contest at 18.
Asheville led by six (30-24) after Rowsey's third three-pointer of the half. Liberty then went on another 6-0 burst capped by a Ryan Kemrite three-pointer to tie the game at 30. Rowsey closed out the period with his fourth and final three-pointer of the half to give the Bulldogs a 33-30 lead at intermission.
Liberty shot 38.5 percent (10-of-26) in the first half, compared to Asheville's 45.8 percent shooting (11-of-24). Liberty held the advantage in the paint, 14-8, but the Bulldogs outscored the Flames from beyond the three-point arc, 15-3.
Rowsey accounted for four of Asheville's five first-half treys, as he led all scorers at halftime with 17 points.
Smith and Andoh each paced the Flames with 10 tallies, apiece.
The Bulldogs opened the second half with a 7-0 run cemented by a fifth Rowsey three-pointer to take a 40-30 lead at 16:57.
With Asheville still up by 10 at 14:05, Liberty began to chip away at the deficit with a 7-0 surge of its own. Following another three-pointer by Kemrite, Theo Johnson and Andoh added baskets to close the run. Asheville answered with four straight points, but a Johnson trey cut the Bulldogs' lead back to four. Andoh followed up with a thunderous one-handed dunk at 10:04 to pull Liberty within two, 51-49.
Asheville stretched its lead out to 12 with 3:26 remaining. The Flames were able to cut it to seven in the closing minutes, but could not climb any closer en route to the 80-70 final.
Comments from Liberty Head Coach Dale Layer "[Andrew Rowsey] is really talented. He's almost as talented when you get him off-balance and he can score in so many different ways. I thought we did a good job on him tonight. The stats lie, but his ability score at the free throw line means you can't foul him. He finds whatever cracks there are and probes whatever you're doing. A lot of guys, you take one thing away from them and it jams them up. He just finds the next thing."
"I'm so proud of our guys. Their character, their reliance on Christ and the strength He gives us every day. It's a group that won't be defined by the score or record, it's defined by the character they brought to the teams. I'm proud of this team's ability to keep going. I've been coaching for 34 years and I'm more proud of this team then 80, 90 percent of those teams. We lost 60 percent of our starters and that's a lot. Just think how devastating that would be on a football team. The guys in the locker room have grown to be men this year."
Liberty Senior Forward Andrew Smith "You have to make the shots as difficult you can on [Rowsey]. He's going to try to get his shots off and fake you, so we just had to make them as challenging as possible." "We just tried to come back every day and put in work. If you don't work, you have no chance at winning. Being with Coach all four years, his big thing has been coming back and getting one percent better every day. That's the only chance you have to win, is to keep working."
Liberty Junior Forward David Andoh "Turnovers were a big problem [in the second half], but not specifically the whole game. We've done a good job with turnovers lately, but they just didn't go our way tonight."