Lady Flames earn conference win in impressive fashion

The Lady Flames basketball team continued its hot stretch Feb. 17, honoring its upperclassmen on Senior Day with an emphatic 86-56 victory over the Sam Houston Bearkats.

Coming into Saturday’s game against the Sam Houston Bearkats, the Lady Flames had won six of their last eight games, vaulting themselves into third place in Conference USA standings.

The Lady Flames met the Bearkats down in Texas during the month of January, where they left victorious with a final score of 84-77. This meeting between the two teams would not be nearly as close.

Before the game tipped off, Liberty honored its three seniors on the team, including two players and one team manager. Forward Jordan Bailey and center Bella Smuda were escorted onto the court by their families and embraced by Head Coach Carey Green at half-court.

Photo by Anna Wheat

The Flames got hot immediately following the opening tip. Liberty came out of the gates aggressive, outrebounding the Bearkats 13-3 in the first period. Not only did the Flames win the early battle on the boards, but they also outshot Sam Houston. While the Bearkats only made five shots all quarter, the Flames were lights out, draining 11 shots and scoring 25 points. Headlined by a big performance from freshman guard Asia Boone, the first quarter was all Flames, 25-13.

In the second quarter, Smuda took business into her own hands, and it stayed that way for the remainder of the ball game. In the second quarter alone, Smuda had eight points and two rebounds. After seemingly every single play she made, the post player was showered with chants for “one more year!”

“I hope she wants to come back,” Green said postgame. “She has mentioned that she is coming back, and we have already made plans to try to get her back, but the transfer portal is crazy. I think she feels comfortable being here, and she mentioned that she would like to get her master’s degree here. We would certainly love to have her back here.”

The first half ended with freshman guard Claudia Acin burying a 3-pointer from way behind the arc, as the Flames took a comfortable 49-31 lead into halftime. junior guard Jordan Hodges finished the half with four assists, and Boone finished the half with 11 points and five rebounds.

The third period started off slow, with neither team scoring points for the first two minutes. The Flames, although up big, seemed a little bit off, giving up seven of their 17 turnovers in the third.

“We need to do our homework before the pass is even made,” Green said. “(Sam Houston) does a great job trying to take you out of your offense, so I give them a lot of credit in that area. I’m disappointed that we had 17 turnovers. Our goal was to have 12 or less. We understand the value of taking care of the ball. We just didn’t do our homework.”

After 30 minutes of play, there was no question who would win the game, with the Flames leading 67-41.

The fourth quarter came and went quickly, but not without some excitement.  Smuda continued to control the game, as she would end her Senior Day just shy of a double-double, with 23 points, nine rebounds, three blocks and a steal, all while hitting all seven of her free throws.

“The Senior Day vibe was great,” Smuda said. “I can’t believe it’s already my Senior Day. I feel like I just got here, but I feel like I’ve been here for years. It’s been wild.” 

Bailey, the team’s senior transfer from ODU, had a lot to say about her team’s aggressiveness. 

“It’s something that coach has been preaching to us all year, so I am proud of the girls for that,” Bailey said. “Rebounding the basketball is a major part of our strategy as a team, and to get rebounds, you have to be aggressive. I was really proud of the girls for that.” 

The Flames owned the boards, collecting 50 rebounds to Sam Houston’s 27.

Photo by Anna Wheat

While the team struggled taking care of the basketball, Bailey was the only member of the team without a turnover on the night. 

“We have to run sprints for every turnover we get over our goal, and your girl does not like to run,” Bailey said. “A lot of the girls usually do a great job, so I can’t say that I don’t have games where I turn the ball over.”

While the win served as a statement against a conference opponent, Bailey believes the team has greater goals to strive for.   

“I think we have a chance to win this thing,” Bailey said. “We are playing our best basketball as a team, so I don’t want to count us out at all. We are still trying to win a championship, and I believe that these girls can do that.”

The Flames have won seven of their last nine games, and they will return to Liberty Arena this Thursday to host the FIU Panthers. That game can be watched on ESPN+ and heard on the Liberty Flames mobile app.   

Weissinger is a sports reporter for the Liberty Champion. Follow him on X

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