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Hokies Need Late Burst to End Flames' NCAA Tourney Run

March 24, 2019  San Jose, Calif.  RSS
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Postgame Quotes

The No. 4 seed Virginia Tech Hokies needed a second-half run to pull away from No. 12 seed Liberty, ending the Flames' historic season on Sunday in the second Round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

Liberty (29-7, 14-2 ASUN) found themselves in a back-and-forth battle with their fellow Commonwealth foe in a game that saw eight lead changes and was tied a half dozen times.

The loss brings to an end Liberty's school record season which included an ASUN Conference championship during its inaugural season in the league, the program's fourth trip to the NCAA Tournament and their first-ever #MarchMadness win when they knocked off No. 5 seed Mississippi State on Friday.

Turning Point:

      A three-pointer by senior Lovell Cabbil Jr. and four free throws by redshirt junior Myo Baxter Bell capped a 9-0 run for the Flames and gave Liberty a 41-36 edge with 15:21 left to play in the second half.

However, the Hokies pieced together a 16-3 run over a five-plus minute span to build a lead it would never relinquish. During the five-minute period, Virginia Tech scored 11-straight points and forced the Flames to turn the ball over four times.

The run ended when Justin Robinson hit a layup at 10:21, giving the No. 4 seed Hokies a 52-44 lead.

Key Stats and Notes:

  • Liberty bookends the most historic season in program history with games against Virginia Tech, starting the season with an exhibition game setback to the Hokies on Nov. 4, 2018.
  • Today's game marked the first time Liberty has played in a NCAA Tournament second round game in four #March Madness appearances.
  • Liberty was eliminated from the first round in 1994 and 2004, while losing a "First Four" round game during their appearance in 2013.
  • Liberty became the seventh ASUN Conference team to advance to the Round of 32 following its 80-76 win over No. 5 seed Mississippi State on Friday night.
  • The Flames were looking to become the second team in ASUN Conference history to advance to the Sweet 16, following Florida Gulf Coast's Sweet 16 run in 2013.
  • Liberty finishes the season with a program record 29 wins, surpassing the 1979-80 team who won 28 games during its NCCAA national championship run.
  • The Flames finish the season having reached the 20-win mark for the third year in a row, setting a new program record.
  • The contest marked the final game in the career for senior's Lovell Cabbil Jr. (408 point), Keenan Gumbs (207 points) and Zach Farquhar (21 points) (point totals in 2018-19).
  • Following a record-breaking season for Liberty, the Flames return 76.6 percent of their scoring offense for the 2019-20 season (2,032 points/2,654 points). 
  • Cabbil finishes his career as the winningest single player in school history, having been a part of 85 wins during his four-year career.
  • Cabbil also ends his career as the 26th player in program history to reach the 1,000 career points mark (1,408 points).
  • Caleb Homesley, the star of Liberty's win over Mississippi State with a career-high 30 points, ends his junior season with 1,079 career points (24th in school history).
  • Fellow juniors Scott James (954 career points/tied for 28th in school history) and Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz (929 points/29th in school history ranking) will enter their final seasons looking to become the next to join 1,000 career points club.
  • Darius McGhee finished the night leading the Flames with 15 points, including five three-pointers, which fell one shy of the freshman's career high of six set against FGCU.

Play-By-Play Breakdown:

First Half Recap

  • The contest got off to a slow start offensively, as Virginia Tech scored the first four points of the game and held a 4-2 lead with 15:52 left to play in the first half.
  • The two teams traded the lead back and forth during the next several minutes with Liberty taking an 8-6 edge when Darius McGhee hit a three-pointer at 14:49.
  • Back-to-back triples by McGhee gave Liberty a 21-17 lead with 6:57 left before halftime.
  • McGhee's fourth three-pointer of the period and a driving layup by Caleb Homesley extended Liberty's lead to 26-18 at 4:29, completing a stretch where the Flames hit 5-of-6 shots from the field and held the Hokies scoreless for three-plus minutes.
  • Virginia Tech responded, holding Liberty scoreless for a matching three-minute period and tied the game at 26-26 following an 8-0 run that was capped by a layup by Kerry Blackshear with 1:40 left before halftime.
  • Liberty quickly answered back, scoring six points during the next 68 seconds, with Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz converting an old-fashion three-pointer and Keenan Gumbs knocking down a three from the corner with 32 seconds left to give Liberty a 32-26 lead.
  • The Hokies cut their deficit in half, 32-29, during the waning seconds of the first when Ahmed Hill drained a three-pointer with three seconds before the break.
  • Liberty forced Virginia Tech to play its style of basketball during the first 20 minutes, with the Flames holding the Hokies to 35.7 percent shooting in the period (10-of-28), while Liberty knocked down seven total three-pointers (7-of-18).  

Second Half

  • Just like the opening half, the Hokies got off to a better start and scored the first seven points of the period to take a 36-32 lead on a three-pointer from Hill at 17:46.
  • The Flames answered right back with a 9-0 run of their own, taking a 41-36 lead at 15:21 after a Lovell Cabbil Jr. three-pointer and a four free throws by Myo Baxter-Bell.
  • During the next two minutes, the Hokies connected on their next four attempts from the floor and took a 48-44 lead with 12:48 left in regulation.
  • Virginia Tech had pushed its lead to as much as eight until McGhee hit a long-range three-pointer at 9:07 to pull the Flames back within five at 52-47.
  • The Flames had a chance to cut into the Hokies' lead as the score remained at 54-49 from 6:41 to 4:04, but Liberty failed to take advantage of the opportunity and Nickeil Alexander-Walker ending the scoring drought to give Virginia Tech a 49-56 lead. 
  • A three-point play by Virginia Tech pushed the Hokies lead to 59-50 when Hill hit a layup and a free throw to extend the lead to nine with 3:13 left to play.
  • Pacheco-Ortiz hit a three-pointer at 2:19 pulls Flames within five 59-54, the Flames' 10th three-pointer of the game, but would get no closer the rest of the game.

Thoughts from Coach McKay:

Congratulations to Virginia Tech. Coach Williams, his staff, wonderful, wonderful people. Did a great job in their game planning and excited for their advancement.  I said on TV to the telecast after the game that, and I said this to our guys in the locker room, Mike Young, the coach at Wofford, had a great quote, and I think it encapsulates our season.  He said, "Don't be sad because it's ended.  Be happy because it occurred."

And I think I get the privilege of leading a group of people or being a part of a group of people that are outstanding, and I'm really pleased that we had a season that was special and that that has occurred.