The Liberty men's basketball team stepped inside the Stuart C. Siegel Center, Sunday afternoon, and the young Flames received a taste of why the VCU Rams are known for wreaking havoc inside the facility. Playing in front of its 73rd straight sellout crowd (7,637), VCU leaped out to a double-digit lead early and did not look back en route to the 85-57 decision.
With the defeat, Liberty falls to 3-11 on the season, suffering its 10th straight setback. VCU is now 7-5 overall and are 6-1 all-time against the Flames.
After coming off the bench the last five contests, Ryan Kemrite received the starting nod, finishing with a game-high 17 points. The redshirt sophomore also led Liberty in rebounding with six boards.
Following back-to-back 15-point performances in his first two games with the Flames, Marquette transfer John Dawson remained consistent. The redshirt sophomore guard concluded the afternoon with 14 points, including 12 in the second half.
Rams' leading scorer Melvin Johnson tallied 15 points, followed by JeQuan Lewis (14) and Jordan Burgess (11).
The Rams shot 53.3 percent (32-of-60) for the game, compared to 47.9 percent (23-of-48) for the Flames. Liberty bounced back after a tough first half of shooting, hitting 16-of-27 shots (59.3 percent) in the second period.
VCU came out firing on all cylinders, jumping out to a 14-4 lead in the opening four minutes of the contest. The Rams shot 55.2 percent (16-of-29) in the opening 20 minutes, holding the Flames to 33.3 percent (7-of-21). VCU capitalized in the paint (20-12), off turnovers (10-2), on second chance points (9-2) and on fast break buckets (11-0). The home team also went 4-of-9 (44.4 percent) from three-point land and 9-of-12 (75.0 percent) at the charity stripe, while the Flames went 1-for-7 (14.3 percent) in both areas.
The Rams led by as much as 30 in the first period, taking their largest lead of the half after a Justin Tillman layup with 37 ticks left. Following an Ezra Talbert three-pointer, Jonathan Williams closed out the period with a layup to give the Rams a 45-16 halftime lead.
Kemrite paced the Flames with eight points during the first 20 minutes of play, while VCU's Lewis led all scorers with 10 tallies.
The Rams continued to pull away in the opening minutes of the second half, thanks in part to three-pointers from Johnson and Michael Gillmore. A Lewis layup at 16:10 gave VCU a 37-point lead, its largest of the contest.
Dawson began to get hot with under 10 minutes to play, posting eight points in a 90-second span. Following back-to-back Dawson three-pointers, Lewis countered with a layup. Dawson then knocked down a jumper, making it 70-39 with 8:47 left to play.
Liberty pulled within 23 points after a Talbert jumper with 2:24 remaining, but could not climb any closer, setting up the 85-57 final.
Liberty concludes a four-game road stretch on Tuesday, when it squares off with ACC member Notre Dame. The matchup marks the first between the two squads in over five years with the Fighting Irish holding a 2-0 lead in the all-time series. Game time is slated for 5 p.m. with the contest broadcasting live on ESPNU.