Andrew Smith was named to the Cancun Challenge All-Tournament Team (photo by Dalton Joyce).
Playing its final game of the Cancun Challenge, the Liberty men's basketball team squared off with Morgan State, Wednesday afternoon. After weathering an early first-half storm from the Bears, the Flames took the lead in the second, but could not hold on en route to the 51-50 decision.
Down by one with less than four seconds left, freshman Peter Moller had a good look at a potential game-winning three-pointer. However, the shot careened off the rim at the buzzer.
With the defeat, Liberty falls to 2-4 on the year, dropping its last four contests. Morgan State (1-5) picks up its first win of the season and is now 3-1 all-time versus the Flames.
The Flames concluded the contest, shooting a season-high 47.4 percent (18-of-38) compared to 30.3 percent for the Bears. Turnovers played a role in the outcome, with Liberty committing 23 miscues, while the Bears had eight. Morgan State outscored the Flames in points off turnovers, 17-5.
Junior forward David Andoh led Liberty with 11 points, followed by seniors Tomasz Gielo and Andrew Smith, who each had 10 tallies. Smith finished with a double-double, tying a career-high with 13 boards. The forward also landed a spot on the Cancun Challenge All-Tournament team.
Morgan State's Cedric Blossom led all scorers with 20 points.
Liberty lit up the board with baskets by James Johnson and Andoh. Morgan State responded with a 13-0 run, capped by a Blossom jumper early in the first half. Moller ended the Bears' scoring surge with a layup at 13:42. Smith tacked on a basket 50 seconds later to bring the Flames within five. Blossom continued to display his mid-range game with another jumper at the 9:30 mark. Gielo countered with a three-pointer with 8:52 left in the period to make it a four-point game, 15-11.
With the Bears up by six, the Flames outscored Morgan State, 6-2, in the closing minutes of the half. Gielo knocked down back-to-back buckets and Retic added two free throws to make it a two-point game at halftime, 25-23.
Blossom led all scorers at the half with 10 points. Gielo paced the Flames with seven tallies.
Liberty shot a season-best 62.5 percent (10-16) from the field in the first half, while holding Morgan State to 31.3 percent (10-of-32). Liberty outscored the Bears in the paint, 12-6, but Morgan State capitalized off the Flames 14 turnovers, converting the miscues into 14 points.
In the second half, Liberty remained within one to two possessions of the Bears until the 10:44 mark. With the Flames down by six, Ethan Layer and Theo Johnson each knocked down three-pointers to give Liberty a 36-35 lead.
The Bears quickly regained the advantage and held the Flames at bay until an Andoh jumper gave Liberty a one-point edge with 50 ticks left. After a Blossom layup, Retic found Smith open for a thunderous dunk with 12 seconds remaining, to regain the lead. Donte Pretlow answered on the other end with a layup, eventually sealing the 51-50 final.
Liberty returns home on Monday to host Furman. The Flames look to avenge last season's 86-83 defeat to the Paladins in Greenville, S.C. (Dec. 20, 2013). Game time in Vines Center is slated for 7 p.m., with the contest broadcasting live on the Liberty Flames Sports Network, MASN HD, ESPN3 and the Big South Network. Photos by Dalton Joyce