After receiving a first-round bye in the 2016 Big South Championship, the No. 5 seed Liberty men's basketball team squared off with No. 4 seed UNC Asheville in the quarterfinals, Friday afternoon, inside Campbell's Gore Arena. Unfortunately for the Flames, the Bulldogs jumped out to big lead early and did not look back en route to the 80-49 decision.
Redshirt sophomore guard John Dawson led Liberty with 15 points, followed by Lovell Cabbil (14) and A.C. Reid (13).
Ahmad Thomas paced the Bulldogs with a game-high 27 points. Rounding out Asheville's double figure scorers were Kevin Vannata (12), Dylan Smith (11) and Sam Hughes (10). Dwayne Sutton finished with nine tallies and a game-high eight rebounds.
The Flames struggled from the field on the day, shooting 31.0 percent (18-of-58). Meanwhile, the Bulldogs capitalized on Liberty's shooting woes, going 31-of-57 (54.4 percent) from the field. Asheville was efficient from the three-point line (10-of-19), while limiting the Flames to just six treys in the contest.
Liberty concludes the 2015-16 season with a 13-19 record, including a 10-8 mark in conference play. The Flames' win total in league action marked the first time the program has garnered 10 Big South victories since the 2010-11 season, when Liberty set a program record with 13 conference wins.
The Flames' season included a seven-game win streak in conference play, helping Liberty finish with a top five seed in the 2016 Big South Championship after being predicted to finish the year 11th in the conference's preseason poll. The Flames' finish in the standings prompted Liberty Head Coach Ritchie McKay to receive Big South Coach of the Year honors. Dawson also earned Big South All-Conference Honorable Mention accolades after the transfer becoming eligible to play on Dec. 17.
The Bulldogs (20-11, 12-6 Big South) advance in the 2016 Big South Championship after eliminating Liberty from the tournament for the second straight year. Asheville will take on No. 1 seed High Point in the semifinals on Saturday at 1 p.m., live on ESPN3. The Panthers defeated No. 8 seed Longwood earlier in the afternoon, 89-78.
Asheville jumped out to an early 12-2 lead highlighted by eight points from Vannatta. Following a three-pointer form Cabbil, the Bulldogs tacked on two more baskets to go up by 11. The Flames cut into the deficit with five During the remainder of the period, the Bulldogs outscored the Flames, 28-6. Asheville spread the wealth, with Smith, Thomas, Hughes and Sutton all posting multiple buckets. After an 8-0 run from the Bulldogs toward the end of the period, Dawson connected on layup with eight ticks left. Asheville then went into the locker room at halftime owning a 44-16 lead.
The Bulldogs shot 56.3 percent (18-of-32) from the field, while holding the Flames to 27.3 percent (6-of-22) during the first 20 minutes of play. Asheville capitalized from behind the three-point arc, knocking down six three-pointers compared to one for Liberty. Head coach Nick McDevitt's squad also took advantage of Liberty's 13 first-half turnovers, converting the miscues into 17 points.
Cabbil paced Liberty with eight points at halftime. Thomas and Hughes led the Bulldogs with 16 and 10 tallies, respectively.
Asheville refused to let its foot off the gas, beginning the second period with a 15-2 burst. Liberty responded with an 8-0 run, with all eight tallies coming from Reid. The sophomore guard capped the scoring streak with a three-pointer at 11:03, making it 59-27.
The Flames cut the deficit to 25 after a Dawson three-pointer with 5:41 remaining. Liberty was unable to climb any closer, setting up the 80-49 final.