The Liberty men's basketball team stepped into UNC Asheville's Kimmel Arena hoping to bounce back from a two-game skid. Unfortunately for the Flames, the Bulldogs were able to pull away in the first half and hold onto the lead in the second for the 73-56 decision.
Sam Hughes paced Asheville with a game-high 17 points, followed by Ahmad Thomas (15) and Kevin Vannatta (13). Thomas also had 10 boards to go along with his scoring effort.
Sophomore guard A.C. Reid led Liberty with 11 points, while freshman guard Lovell Cabbil had 10 tallies.
Entering its final regular-season contest on Saturday, Liberty is now 12-18 overall and 9-8 in Big South action. The Bulldogs, who came into the night second in the conference standings, improve to 19-10 on the year and 12-5 in league play.
Liberty shot 37.7 percent (20-of-53) from the field, falling below 40.0 percent shooting for the first time since a 64-63 defeat at Charleston Southern on Jan. 14. Asheville closed out the contest with a 42.9 shooting percent (24-of-56). The Bulldogs controlled the paint, outscoring the Flames inside, 32-20. Asheville also held a strong 19-3 advantage in points off turnovers. The Bulldogs committed just six miscues on the night, while forcing Liberty to make 14 turnovers.
With the contest tied at seven in the early minutes, the Bulldogs went on a 10-2 run capped by a Vannatta jumper. Liberty responded with five unanswered points, receiving a Cabbil three-pointer and jumper from Ezra Talbert. The bucket by Talbert with 7:47 left in the half pulled Liberty within three, 17-14.
The Bulldogs widened the gap once again, this time going on a 12-2 burst. A traditional three-point play from Dylan Smith and an Ahmad Thomas layup helped give Asheville a 13-point lead. Reid cut the deficit to 10, knocking down a trey with 3:26 left in the period. Asheville closed out the opening stanza with six straight points off free throws from Sam Hughes and baskets by Vannatta and Thomas, giving the Bulldogs a 35-19 halftime lead.
Asheville shot 44.4 percent (12-of-27) in the first half, holding the Flames to 30.4 percent (7-of-23). The Bulldogs outscored the Flames in the paint, 12-4, and converted Liberty's 11 turnovers into 15 points.
Thomas paced Asheville with 10 points at the half. Maxwell and Talbert led the Flames with four points apiece.
The Bulldogs continued to keep the Flames at bay in the second period. With UNC Asheville leading by 22, Liberty posted five unanswered points to chip away at the bulge. After John Dawson connected on a pair of free throws, Reid drained a three-pointer to cut the deficit to 17. Both teams began trading baskets until Reid knocked down another trey to put the Flames within 14 points at the 8:10 mark. Caleb Homesley followed up with a layup 26 ticks later to make it 60-48.
The Flames were unable to climb any closer, with the Bulldogs stretching their lead out to 18 with 3:21 left before eventually sealing the 73-56 victory.
The Flames close out the regular season on Saturday, playing host to Gardner-Webb. Liberty took the first meeting against the Runnin' Bulldogs inside Paul Porter Arena on Jan. 27, defeating Gardner-Webb, 69-55. Saturday's contest is part of a doubleheader, with the Lady Flames squaring off with Longwood at 3 p.m. Tipoff for the matchup with the Runnin' Bulldogs is slated for noon, with the contest broadcasting live on the American Sports Network.