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Flames Knock Off Bulldogs for Historic Win to Open NCAA Tournament

March 22, 2019  San Jose, Calif.  RSS
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Postgame Quotes: Coach McKay, Myo Baxter-Bell, and Caleb Homesley

Coach McKay Press Conference

Game Recap

No. 12 seed Liberty erased a 10-point second half deficit to record the most historic win in athletics department history, as the Flames knocked off No. 5 seed Mississippi State 80-76, Friday afternoon, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The win pushes Liberty (29-6, 14-2 ASUN) into the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four "March Madness" appearances.

The Flames will face No. 4 seed Virginia Tech in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday at the SAP Arena. Game time for the contest between Commonwealth opponents will be announced by the NCAA at a later time. The Hokies advanced to Sunday's match following an 80-76 win over No. 13 seed Saint Louis later on Friday evening.

Turning Point:

 With the game tied at 53-53 with 10:41 left to play in the second half, the Bulldogs scored the game's next 10 points and held the Flames scoreless for nearly four minutes. A driving layup by Lamar Peters gave Mississippi State a 63-53 lead at the 7:18 mark.

A pair of free throws by Caleb Homesley at the 6:58 mark snapped Liberty's scoreless streak and sparked a Flames' 16-4 run that ended with a three-pointer by Homesley to give Liberty a 69-67 lead with 2:34 left in the contest.

Mississippi State briefly regained the lead on a pair of Robert Woodard free throws with 1:36 left, but Liberty scored the game's next five points to take a lead it would never relinquish.

Key Stats and Notes:

  • The win was Liberty's first in four appearances at the NCAA Tournament, following appearances in 1994, 2004 and 2013.
  • Liberty gives the ASUN Conference five NCAA Tournament wins since 2013 and eight total wins in conference history.
  • Caleb Homesley paced the Flames with a career-high 30 points, besting his previous career high of 23 points against fellow SEC foes Alabama earlier this year.
  • Homesley's 30 points marked a new program history for single-game scoring by a Liberty play in an NCAA Tournament game.
  • The two teams combined to knock down 20 three-pointers (12 by Liberty and eight by Mississippi State), marking the fifth time this year Liberty has played in a game where the two teams hit 20 more or more combined three-pointers
  • Mississippi State tried to keep the Flames from scoring on the inside, recording eight blocks in the game, including seven during the second half.
  •  This is the fifth time that three No. 12 seeds defeated No. 5 seeds in the Round of 64 since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 and first since 2014.
  • Liberty's bench outscored Mississippi State's bench 20-18.
  • Liberty's 12 made three-pointers is the most in a game since converting 14 three-pointers on Jan. 5, 2019 against FGCU.
  • Liberty was 1-6 this season where its opponent outshot them as Mississippi State shot 48 percent from the field while Liberty shot 46 percent from the floor.
  • Liberty has now won a school record 29 wins, the most in a single season.

Play-By-Play Breakdown:

First Half Recap

  • Mississippi State controlled the pace of the game early, scoring eight of the contest's 10 points to take an 8-2 at the 15:38 mark.
  • During the next four minutes of play, Liberty pulled within one on two separate occasions to keep within striking distance of the Bulldogs.
  • Lovell Cabbil hit back-to-back three-pointers within a 33-second span to keep the Flames within one, 20-19, with 9:08 left to play in the period.
  • The Flames scored nine of the game's next 15 points, taking their first lead of the game on a Caleb Homesley three-pointer directly in front of the Mississippi State bench with 5:30 left to play before halftime, 26-24.
  • The Flames held the lead for the next four-plus minutes until a Liberty turnover led to a three-pointer from Lamar Peters from the corner with 63 seconds left in the half, allowing the Bulldogs to regain the lead at 36-35.
  • Quinndary Weatherspoon made 1-of-2 free throw attempts with 15.7 seconds left, allowing the Bulldogs to take a 37-35 advantage into the locker room at halftime.

Second Half

  • Following a Scottie James dunk on the second half's first possession to tie the game at 37-37, Mississippi State went on a 6-0 run to open 43-37 lead at 18:04
  • During the six-point run, Liberty tried to go inside; however, James and Myo Baxter-Bell both had shots blocked to allow the Bulldogs to keep the lead.
  • Liberty regained the lead at 47-46 on an old-fashion three-point point, when Homesley took an in-bounds feed under the basket, converting the layup and following free throw to give Liberty the 47-46 lead at 14:14.
  • The game saw two lead changes and was tied twice over the next five-plus minutes until Reggie Perry grabbed an offensive rebound and found Peters open in the corner for a three-pointer to give Mississippi State a 56-53 edge with 9:06 left in the game.
  • The trey started a 10-0 run for the Bulldogs with Mississippi State pushing its lead to 63-53 at 7:18 on a layup by Peters.
  • A pair of Homesley free throws at the 6:58 mark started a 16-4 run that saw Liberty take a 69-67 lead on a trey from Homesley at the 2:37 mark.
  • Mississippi State hit 3-of-4 free throws over the next 58 seconds to regain the lead at 70-69 on a pair of shots from the charity stripe from Robert Woodard at 1:36.
  • Liberty responded 20 seconds later on a contested three-pointer from Cabbil to take a 72-20 edge, a Liberty it would never relinquish.
  • Liberty made 8-of-10 free throws down the stretch to seal its most historic win in program history.

Thoughts from Coach McKay:

Man, really feel blessed to get a chance to do life with these guys, the two on my left (Myo Baxter-Bell and Caleb Homesley) tonight, they are day one guys.  They've been with us ever since we took the job. And really great sense of satisfaction and appreciation for the resiliency we showed against a really quality opponent.  That team is as good of a team as we've played all year long, and I was really proud of our group for the way they hung in there."

What's Next:

The Flames will now face the No. 4 seed, Virginia Tech, for the opportunity to advance to the Sweet 16. Tip-off against the Hokies is set for 7:10 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 24, and can be seen on TBS.  The game will also be on Westwood One Radio. To purchase tickets, click here.