Liberty Men’s basketball defeats Stetson 57-54
The Flames survived a late scare against Stetson Tuesday, Feb. 5, scraping a 57-54 win at the Vines Center in Liberty’s first game this season decided by a single possession.
When junior guard Caleb Homesley dunked with 2:22 left on the clock, the score was 57-48, in favor of the Flames. Liberty would not score again, however, and Stetson’s relentless pursuit of the Flames came short of a major upset by only one missed 3-pointer as the buzzer rang.
The win qualified the Flames for the ASUN championship and took them to 20 season wins in the fastest time in program history.
In the night’s standout performance, senior guard Lovell Cabbil led the game with 19 points, but he was disappointed by the team’s poor execution.
“I thought we just came out and thought we had an easy win playing Stetson,” Cabbil said. “They came out and they played really hard — they had nothing to lose. I thought we came out just going through the motions, that we could just show up and win, and that’s not the case in any Division I game — it doesn’t matter who you’re playing.”
Coming into Tuesday’s game, the Flames 71-53 win away at Stetson in January, combined with Stetson’s poor conference record of 1-8, pointed towards a comfortable win for Liberty. On a night of poor shooting, however, Liberty struggled on offense throughout most of the game, shooting for .379 from the field and missing 25 3-pointers.
Throughout the first half, Liberty and Stetson traded points, setting the pattern of ineffective offense that would last for the rest of the game. By the under-16 media break, Liberty was 2-6 from the field, leaving Coach Ritchie McKay frustrated.
“I thought we showed great immaturity in missed shots,” McKay said. “We didn’t let a miss end with a miss — we let it carry over to lack of execution defensively, hesitation the next time down, trying to stay in the game by making a shot — those are not characteristic of our group.”
Possession also changed hands regularly in an increasingly sloppy first half, with both teams combining for 15 total turnovers and 37 missed shots from the field.
With such inefficient shooting, Cabbil was crucial to Liberty’s performance in the first half. Shortly after subbing in with 9:30 left in the half, he scored two free throws and then the game’s first 3-pointer in quick succession, helping carry the Flames into halftime with a
Fired up by Head Coach Corey Williams, Stetson came roaring out of the locker room after halftime, scoring 13 points to Liberty’s 7 by 13:26 and taking the game to 36-34. Homesley believed the Flames mental difficulties as the score narrowed came down to a lack
“We had bad execution on defense, so they were able to come back off of our runs, and on the offensive end, we weren’t doing the right things to set people up to score in the ways that we score,”
The Flames seemed lifeless before sophomore guard Keegan McDowell rose to score a 3-pointer at 13:26, ending a nearly 4-minute scoring drought for Liberty. Cabbil added 5 more points in a 10-0 run that would swing momentum in Liberty’s favor, leaving the score at 46-34.
Stetson kept pace, however, narrowing the gap and then launching into a 6-0 unanswered scoring run, knocking on Liberty’s door as the score reached 57-54.
McKay paced the sidelines as his players struggled to defend in the final minutes of the game.
“I think we were tentative,” McKay said. “I think we really lacked execution on the defensive end. … They ran the same play over and over again. The fact that we couldn’t do it, knowing it was coming — that’s the issue that we have to resolve.”
As Keith Matthews missed his chance to tie the game at 0:01, the buzzer rang, leaving the Flames clutching to a win that had almost slipped away. Cabbil reflected on the reality check Tuesday has been for the Flames.
“We have to execute and do what we do every day, instead of getting outside of ourselves and expecting to show up and get handed a win,” Cabbil said. “Because no team is going to hand us a win.”
Liberty has a tough couple of weeks ahead as they travel to take on Lipscomb, North Alabama and North Florida. The team’s second matchup against Lipscomb will be high-stakes as Liberty looks to reclaim its spot at the top of the ASUN.
The Flames will be in the Vines again Tuesday, Feb. 26 when they host Kennesaw State at 7 p.m.