Flames still searching

Men’s basketball tries to find a way to break out of its conference drought

The Liberty men’s basketball team lost its seventh straight conference game and seventh straight overall last Thursday night, Jan. 22, falling to Winthrop, 71-56.

effort — Center Evan Maxwell attempts to finish at the rim against Winthrop.  Photo credit: Courtney Russo

Effort — Center Evan Maxwell attempts to finish at the rim against Winthrop. Photo credit: Courtney Russo

Liberty (6-15) is now 0-8 in Big South play for the first time since the 1998-99 season when the Flames started 0-9 in conference games and finished 1-11. Liberty has also lost three straight conference games at home since the 2001-02 season and has now dropped seven straight against Winthrop (9-9, 4-3 Big South).

Andrew Smith and David Andoh led the Flames with 11 points each, while Theo Johnson collected 10 points. With his 11 tallies, Smith now moves into the top 50 on Liberty’s all-time scoring list with 582 career points. The senior also pulled in 10 rebounds for his third double-double of the season.

It was a slow start and 20 turnovers that doomed the Flames yet again as Winthrop opened the game on a 16-2 run, with Liberty’s only basket coming off a Smith dunk to give Liberty a 2-0 lead with 18:26 remaining. The Flames would not score again until over eight minutes later on a layup by Ryan Kemrite with 10:34 remaining.

“I don’t know that it was as bad (as we’ve played) because we had really good shots and they just didn’t go in,” Flames Head Coach Dale Layer said. “I think the result was as bad for sure.”

After the dunk by Smith, Liberty trailed the rest of the night and registered one of the worst halves in program history despite ending the first half on a 7-0 run.

Winthrop led by as many as 21 and took a 29-15 lead into halftime.

The 15 points were the second fewest by a Liberty team in a half in Vines Center history (the arena opened in 1990), and the Flames were four points away from tying a program low in points in a half (11 against Virginia Tech, Dec. 1, 1997). The Flames shot 23.1 percent (6-26) from the field in the first half and were 0-7 on
three-point attempts.

“I think coach said we started 4-20 shooting in the first half,” Andoh said. “We couldn’t really make any shots. We were turning the ball over. (We) couldn’t really get into sync offensively. But I think we started to figure it out in the second half.”

Despite the slow start, Liberty was able to gain some momentum in the second half. They began with a 9-2 run to cut the deficit to 31-24, and pulled to within six with just under six minutes to play, but was never able to fully recover.

Liberty also failed to make a three-point shot (0-10) in a game for the first time since Feb. 1, 2005 against High Point, a game that the Flames ended up winning, 84-81.
“It’s tough. You just gotta stick together,” Smith said. “You can’t try to get it all back at one time. You just gotta have good possession after good possession, and I think we did a good job of doing that in the second half. We just need to do it longer.”

Although Liberty (42.9 percent) shot better than Winthrop (38.6 percent) from the field, the Flames committed 20 turnovers in the game, which the Eagles turned into 19 points. Liberty went into the game last in the Big South in turnovers, averaging 17.2 per game.

Andoh came into Thursday’s game having hit 18 consecutive free throws, but his streak ended at 20 when he missed the second shot of a one-and-one with 3:51 left in the game. Liberty was 14-18 (77.8 percent) from the foul line while Winthrop was 21-28 (75 percent).

The Flames continue Big South play Thursday, Jan. 29 when they host the High Point Panthers at 7 p.m. in the Vines Center.

VANDENBOSCH is a sports reporter.

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