The Liberty Flames picked up its 21st win of the season and moves to 10-1 in ASUN play with a 74-67 hard fought win over FGCU.
Lovell Cabbil would open the game with a 3-pointer to put the Flames ahead 3-0. The Eagles would respond with a 12-3 run to take an early 12-6 lead at the first media timeout. Coach McKay wasn’t happy with the early calls by the officials, thinking they missed a couple on FGCU while calling Lovell for a cheap one.
Liberty would respond with a 7-0 run of its own to regain the lead. Darius McGhee was able to get into the paint scoring a bucket and the foul for an old-fashioned 3 point play. McGhee had an 18 point performance in the first meeting against FGCU. Since that game, Darius has made just 4-of-36 from 3. He connected on his first tonight.
“I’ve been in a shooting slump,” McGhee, who finished with 9 points, said. “It’s been frustrating for me, but my teammates have been encouraging me to keep shooting and luckily tonight the shots were falling. It felt good to get the lid off the basket.”
The Eagles went more than 7 minutes without a field goal as Liberty maintained the lead most of the first half. Cabbil’s defense continues to cause the opposing team’s best guard problems as he bottled up FGCU’s leading scoring Schadrac Casimir. Cabbil would pick up his 2nd foul as he was relegated to the bench. Casimir ended up having a terrific first half, finishing with a game-high 19 points. He entered the game averaging 17.8 points per game in conference play.
After two Casimir free throws with 5 seconds left in the half, McGhee took the ball down the court and hit a running 3-pointer as time expired and Liberty took a 35-31 lead into the break.
Scottie James had a hard-fought 7 points and 7 rebounds in just 13 minutes of action in the first half.McGhee had a team-high 9 points.
After a first half with just 2 points, Caleb Homesley connected on two 3-pointers in the opening few minutes of the 2nd half as the Flames tried to push the lead to double figures and gain some separation. Casimir wasn’t having any of it though. He continued his stellar play, pushing his point total to 24 on just 8 field goal attempts before checking out with just over 16 minutes left in the game.
Liberty went on a stretch of 8 possessions, dating back to the first half, where the Flames scored 21 points, scoring 3 points on 7 of the 8 possessions.
The Flames would make 4-of-5 field goals to spark a 7-0 run as the lead extended to 14 at the 9:23 mark. During the run, Keenan Gumbs had an electrifying dunk to bring energy to the crowd. A few possessions later, after turning it over, Darius McGhee chased down Casimir and got a huge block. The bench, back to doing what had become customary prior to the past few games.
“We had a lot of players make a lot of big plays, a lot of high energy plays,” Scottie said following the win. “Our bench was great, starting with Gumbs giving us energy.”
FGCU wouldn’t go away, as they went on a 10-2 run to cut the Liberty lead to 6 before a Caleb Homesley lay-in at the under 8 media timeout. A 3-point play from Dinero Mercurius and a 3-pointer on the Eagles’ next possession would cut it to 2. He scored 14 of the team’s 16 points in one stretch. Cuffee would respond with a huge 3-pointer to push the lead back to 5.
Liberty’s top perimeter defenders, Cabbil and Cuffee, were saddled with foul trouble most of the evening. Both of them would foul out between the 5 and 3 minute mark. Cabbil’s 5th foul came on a made 3 pointer by Casimir, he would miss the free throw as Liberty led by 5.
“To win a game like that without your two best perimeter defenders who have a ton of experience,” said McKay. “I mean Lovell Cabbil has been a shut down defender, and he got 5 and Cuff got 5, and I looked down there and there was no John Dawson or Anthony Fields.”
With just 90 seconds left and Liberty leading by 3, the Flames had the ball out of bounds with just 1 second left on the shot clock. A beautifully drawn up play got Keenan Gumbs loose in the paint and he was able to put it in. Following an FGCU turnover, Scottie James tipped in a Darius McGhee miss as the lead grew to 7.
With Cabbil and Cuffee both fouled out, McKay had to turn to McGhee and Gumbs down the stretch, and they provided the necessary plays for the Flames to pull it out. McGhee even got the defensive assignment on Casimir for a few crucial possessions down the stretch.
“Keenan Gumbs hadn’t had a significant impact on the outcome in a while, and he definitely did tonight,” McKay said. “He was great. I loved what he did. Keegan McDowell played good too.”
“I thought it was a big step for Darius,” said Homesley. “Cuff and Lovell went out, so he was the next guard up to have to play serious minutes towards the end of the game and guard. I thought he did a good job with that, and I also thought he hit some big shots in the first half to give us some momentum going into halftime.”
Homesley had just 2 points in the first half, but a strong second half offensively would push him into double figures for the 9th straight game as he finished with 13 points.
Scottie James had his 6th double-double of the game, finishing with 12 points and 14 rebounds, the 2nd most rebounds he has had in a game this season as he pulled down 17 against Georgia State.
Cabbil and Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz would also reach double figures, finishing with 12 and respectively.
Casimir finished with 33 points on 14 field goal attempts. Mercurius had 16. The rest of the team combined to score 18.
“Casimir was throwing in things from everywhere,” McKay said. “I had Darius Garland (Vanderbilt) flashbacks.” Garland also scored 33 points against Liberty earlier this season when the Flames lost to the Commodores.
Liberty heads to Nashville, 1 game behind Lipscomb, for a rematch of the January 29th game that saw the Bisons rout of the Flames, 79-59.