In the first round of the CollegeInsider.Com Postseason Tournament (CIT), Liberty defeated North Carolina A&T 65-52 in the Jim Phelan Classic. With the win, the Flames match last year's win total as they improve to 21-14 on the season.
"We had a high level of respect for them coming into the game because we knew how tough it was going to be," head coach Ritchie McKay said. "I think we were connected and together defensively."
After a slow start on offense in the first half, Liberty turned the corner in the second half, shooting 59.1 percent (13-22) from the floor and 66.7 percent (6-9) from beyond the arc. Keegan McDowell got hot in the second half, scoring Liberty's first eight points in the second half. After missing his first shot in the game in the first half, McDowell did not miss from the field, scoring 15 points off a perfect 4-4 shooting from the floor.
"Once you start hitting jump shots it opens everything up," McDowell said. "We have to try and keep winning to keep this season going because we don't want the offseason to come."
Scottie James posted his 11th double-double of the season with 11 points and tied a game-high with 12 rebounds. Leading all scorers in the game was Caleb Homesley with 16 points to go along with six rebounds, three assists, one steal and a block. The Flames were able to take care of the ball against the Aggies, committing just seven turnovers while forcing North Carolina A&T (20-15) to commit 11 turnovers.
While Liberty elevated its offense in the second half, the defense was exceptional all night, holding North Carolina A&T to a season-low 52 points. All 10 players that played for the Aggies scored, but only one scored double-digits as Aaren Edmead scored 14 points.
As the Flames struggled from the field to open up the game, shooting 2-10 from the field, the Aggies made four of their first 10 shots, but Liberty still led 12-10 at the 10:48 mark. After five lead changes, Liberty went on a 6-0 run to take a 19-14 lead, sparked by Homesley's seven points in 11 minutes.
The Flames went through a 4:15 scoring drought to end the half, but the defense remained intact for the Flames, limiting the Aggies to just two makes in their final 11 shot attempts in the first half. Going into the break, Liberty held a slim 23-21 lead. James was effective on the glass in the first half, tallying eight rebounds to go along with a pair of assists and two points.
Both teams struggled from the field in the first half as North Carolina A&T shot 33.3 percent (9-27), and the Flames converted 8-29 (27.6 percent). Liberty's Homesley and the Aggies' Emead led the first half with seven points each.
The second half proved to be a different story for the Flames, committing just two turnovers in the half and relying on their bench. After just four points in the first half, Liberty's bench recorded 21 points, led by McDowell's 15 points. Midway through the half, Liberty made seven straight field goals to jump out to a 49-39 lead with 7:54 left in the game.
"When we're effective from both the interior and behind the arc, we are a tough guard," McKay added.
The Flames continued to attack on offense as six different players scored for the Flames. After converting six three-pointers in the second half, Liberty sealed the win from the free-throw line, shooting 83.3 percent (10-12) from the charity stripe in the second half.
The Flames will now await their opponent in the next round of the CIT as the second round is set to begin on March 17.
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