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Three-Point Shooting and Stingy Defense Leads Liberty Past Winthrop

February 1, 2018  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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Looking for its first home win since Jan. 6, Liberty delivered an all-around impressive effort to defeat Winthrop 77-61 Thursday night. Liberty (14-10, 5-6 BSC) completes the sweep over the Eagles (13-9, 7-4 BSC) for the first time since the 2003-04 season.

"This was the most complete performance we have had in a while," head coach Ritchie McKay said. "We did a good job offensively of establishing a presence inside, and we showed a sense of togetherness."

A force in the first half with 15 points, Liberty's Scottie James tied his career-high with 21 points, shooting 60 percent (9-15) from the field to go along with eight rebounds. The Flames moved the ball all night on offense, recording 16 assists. Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz paced Liberty with five assists.

The Flames were also lethal from three-point range, shooting 50 percent (11-22). Seven players made a three, led by Caleb Homesley, who tied a career best with four makes from beyond the arc.

"This was a good win for our fans and our team because we had not won at home in a while," Homesley said. "A win like this can help bring our team together."

Against a potent Winthrop offense averaging 82.9 points per game, Liberty held the Eagles 21 points below their average, as they were held to under 70 points for just the second time this season (69-55 loss at VCU on Dec. 19).

"Defensively, they (Winthrop) are hard to guard," McKay added. "Xavier Cooks is a tough matchup for anyone, but I felt like we did enough to make them earn it. I am pleased with our effort because it was sound, and it was continuous."

It was a battle of the big men to start the game between Cooks and James, as the two combined for 13 points in the first four-and-a-half minutes of the game. Cook scored Winthrop's first seven points while James poured in six of Liberty's first 10 points. Good ball movement and a presence inside the paint sparked an early advantage for the Flames. With eight points inside the paint in the first 7:30 of the game, Liberty jumped out to a 17-7 lead over the Eagles.

The Flames' defense held all Winthrop players other than Cooks scoreless for the first seven-and-a-half minutes of the game. Liberty went on a 19-4 run over the course of seven minutes midway through the first half to take a 27-11 lead. Winthrop countered with an 8-0 run to cut Liberty's lead to single digits (27-19) with just under five minutes left in the half.

Solid defense in the opening half translated to offense for the Flames. Liberty forced eight turnovers that led to 14 points. Liberty went into halftime with a 37-26 lead over the Eagles after shooting 50 percent (14-28) from the floor. James and Cooks led all scorers with 15 points each while James grabbed four rebounds. The Flames did an exceptional job of sharing the ball in the first 20 minutes of action, handing out nine assists led by Pacheco-Ortiz and Lovell Cabbil with three assists each.  

Liberty's lead at half over Winthrop was the first time the Flames led the Eagles at intermission since Feb. 2, 2016 (Liberty won 88-77).

The Flames continued to attack on offense to open the second half, making five of their first six shot attempts. The Eagles' Anders Broman got hot from three-point range in the second half making 4-6 for a game-high 14 points in the half.  Winthrop clawed back into the game by holding Liberty scoreless for nearly five minutes to slice the deficit to 10 points (58-48) with eight minutes left in the game.

As Winthrop continued to make mini runs to come within 10 points, Liberty sealed the win by outscoring the Eagles 19-13 in the final eight minutes. Homesley came up clutch for the Flames in the closing stretch, scoring 11 points in the final four minutes of the contest.

"We had to keep the intensity (in the 2nd half), and I was able to make big shots because my teammates got me open," Homesley added. "When my teammates show confidence in me, that just raises my level of confidence in myself."

The Flames will have a quick turnaround as they hit the road for a game on Saturday. Liberty will make the hour trip to in-state opponent Longwood. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. at Willett Hall.