Flames guard Davon Marshall
The Liberty men's basketball team opened play in the Huntsville subregional of the Progressive Legends Classic, Monday afternoon, squaring off with UC Irvine. The Flames hung with the Anteaters in the first half, leading by as much as four during the period. However, UC Irvine quieted the Liberty offense in the second half, ultimately picking up a 64-46 decision. With the loss, Liberty begins the year 0-4 for the first time since the 1990-91 campaign, when the Flames started the season, 0-5. The Anteaters improve to 2-1 on the year. Davon Marshall maintained his scoring average, leading the Flames with 12 points. Tavares Speaks added 11 points for Liberty. JR Coronado concluded the contest with a season-high eight points, while posting a game-high seven rebounds. Daman Starring was the Anteaters' leading scorer with 12 points, followed by Chris McNealy, who had 10 tallies. Receiving the first start of his Liberty career, Casey Roberts put the Flames on the board first with a three-pointer 25 ticks into the contest. The Anteaters responded with a 6-0 burst, but a Marshall trey at 16:55 knotted the game at six. UC Irvine reclaimed the lead with a Michael Wilder three-pointer at 16:30. Five unanswered points over the next two and half minutes put the Flames back on top by two. McNealy once again tied the contest at 13:50, sinking a jumper to make it 11-11. Following a Starring layup, back-to-back three-pointers by Marshall and Chad Donley gave Liberty a four-point lead (17-13) with 10:58 left in the first half. The Anteaters then went on a 7-0 run to take a 20-17 advantage at the 7:45 mark. Conor Clifford led UC Irvine during the span with four points underneath the basket. Marshall put the Flames back on top with 4:11 left in the period, connecting on his third three-pointer of the half. In the remaining minutes, the Anteaters outscored the Flames, 10-2, to take a 30-24 lead into the locker room at halftime. During the first half, UC Irvine shot 42.9 percent (12-of-28) from the field, while holding Liberty to 37.5 percent shooting (9-of-24). For the third straight game, the Flames shot over 60 percent from three-point land in the opening 20 minutes, hitting 5-of-8 (62.5 percent). The Anteaters outscored the Flames in the paint, 16-2. Marshall paced all players at the half with nine points. McNealy led the Anteaters with eight markers. Speaks also chipped in seven tallies for the Flames. UC Irvine pulled away in the second half, outscoring Liberty 16-8 in the opening 10:12. A layup by Clifford with 9:38 left on the clock put the Anteaters up by 14, 46-32. UC Irvine widened the gap over the next 5:40 on the strength of a 17-4 run. A Travis Souza three-pointer at 3:58 gave the Anteaters their largest lead of the contest (27 points), making it 63-36. Liberty closed out the contest with a 10-1 surge off buckets by Jarred Jourdan and Coronado, eventually leading to the 64-46 final. UC Irvine shot 43.4 percent (23-of-53) from the field, while holding the Flames to 39.5 percent (17-of-24). The Anteaters outscored Liberty in the paint, 32-14 and off the bench, 27-5. Liberty was held to one three-point field goal in the second half, finishing the contest with 54.5 percent (6-of-11) shooting from beyond the arc. The Anteaters also capitalized at the free throw line in the second half, shooting 76.9 percent (10-of-13) compared to the Flames' 33.3 percent (5-of-15). Liberty continues play in the Progressive Legends Classic on Tuesday, squaring off with tournament host Sam Houston State. The matchup marks the Flames' first-ever meeting with the Bearkats. Tipoff inside the Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum is slated for 8 p.m. (EST).