Strong performance from Homesley leads Liberty Flames past Stetson into ASUN finals

The 2020 ASUN Player of the Year proved his prowess on the court Thursday night as he led the No. 1 Liberty Flames to a 66-62 victory over the No. 4 Stetson Hatters.

Caleb Homesley led both teams with 26 points, the most he’s scored in a conference game. Homesley also led the game with 8 rebounds.

Hatters Head Coach Donnie Jones said his team couldn’t handle Homesley’s talent.

Flames Head Coach Ritchie McKay said Homesley’s defensive play is the true indicator of his skill.

“His maturation as a complete player is phenomenal,” McKay said. “If you go back toward the end of the season last year when we started playing really well, Caleb’s defensive presence really elevated our ability to get beat. He made some great plays on both ends of the floor, and he’s player of the year for a reason.”

Despite Homesley’s outstanding show, the game was not an easy victory.

The Flames struggled out of the gate, falling behind to the Hatters early and failing to pick up the lead until the beginning of the second half. Liberty trailed by as much as nine points in the first half – its largest deficit this tournament – and could not find an offensive rhythm.

 But 5-foot-9-inch sophomore Darius McGhee ignited the court with a crucial rebound over the Hatters and followed it up with two back-to-back 3-pointers, the Flames kicked into gear. Suddenly closing the gap from six points to three, the Flames entered halftime down 25-22.

Photo by Liz Fitch – Liberty Champion

McGhee continued his performance into the second half with an early fast break layup and another key rebound. But it was Elijah Cuffee who changed the direction of the game when he stole a Hatters pass and made a fast break layup of his own, finally putting the Flames in the lead.

“I think I just got lucky on the read, got a hand on the ball, and was able to chase it down,” Cuffee said. “I didn’t know we took the lead with that play.”

The Flames never gave up the lead after that, despite the Hatters best efforts.

“There’s going to be runs in the game,” Jones said. “I just worried if we could keep it under 10, we could try and make a run.”

Cuffee proved to be vital to the Flames victory on the defensive end, holding ASUN Freshman of the Year Rob Perry to just eight points, all of which he scored in the final five minutes of the game.

But even Perry’s points could not draw the Hatters level with Liberty. Eight perfect free throws from senior Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz sealed the victory in the final minute of the game.

“I’ve been there before,” Pacheco-Ortiz said. “I live for those moments, I love those moments. My teammates trust me to be there and to knock down free throws in the close moments. I’ve been in those moments since my freshman year, so it’s nothing to me.”

While the Flames were duking it out with the Hatters, another battle was taking place in North Florida’s UNF Arena. The No. 2 Ospreys hosted the No. 3 Lipscomb Bisons in their own semifinal matchup, and the Bisons took home the upset with a 73-71 victory.

Liberty will host Lipscomb in their third matchup of the season in the finals, which will take place on Sunday.

McKay said he and his team are anticipating a tough game.

“Whoever it was, it was going to be a really good opponent,” McKay said. “I’m not surprised – we lived firsthand through (Lipscomb’s) offensive prowess, and they’re a very underrated defensive team. I think it’s the third year in a row they’ve played in a conference championship game, and same with us. So I’m not sure how much of an advantage it is – our advantage is we’re playing in the Vines for the last time.”

Sunday’s ASUN tournament finals will also be the final men’s basketball game played in the Vines Center. Tipoff is at 3 p.m. and general admission is $15 while premium seating is $20.

Baker is the sports editor. Follow her on Twitter @embake99.

Photo by Liz Fitch – Liberty Champion

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