The line for this game before tip-off was Liberty -22.5. It didn’t quite go that way as the Flames had to escape a buzzer-beating 3 pointer to pull out the 3 point win, 57-54. This is the first game decided by less than 6 points for Liberty this season.
“I thought Stetson played well,” Coach McKay said after the game. “I thought we started poorly and played poorly.’
The Hatters opened play by going to a 2-3 zone that was extended well beyond the 3-point line. It gave the Flames trouble early, settling for 4 three pointers in the opening minutes, missing all of them. Liberty’s struggles from behind the arc would continue, as they missed their first 10 from deep.
Both teams struggled on offense, hovering near the 30% mark from the field through the first 10 minutes of the game and missing a combined 13 three pointers to start the game. Liberty forced Stetson into 7 turnovers in the first 12 minutes of game action.
It wasn’t until a 9-2 run midway through the first half that the Flames finally got some separation, taking a 19-12 lead at the under 8 media timeout. As is typically the case for Liberty, the defense kept the team in front as the offense tried to find its rhythm.
Lovell Cabbil tried to get the team going offensively, making the only two three pointers Liberty had in the first half. He scored 12 points in the first half as he moved into 15th place on the school’s all-time scoring list, passing Julius Nwosu.
The Flames were 9-for-12 shooting inside the arc in the first half, compared to just 2-for-17 from 3-point range. Liberty would push its lead to as high as 10, doing so with just 13 seconds left in the half, before Stetson got a buzzer-beating lay-in. The Flames led 29-21 at the half. The 21 points are the second fewest the Hatters have scored in the first half this season, only bested by Stetson’s first contest against Liberty.
Stetson came out of the locker room attempting to make this a contested final 20 minutes, cutting Liberty’s lead to 2 in the opening minutes before Keegan McDowell got open for a 3 pointer from the wing at the 13:05 mark. That 3 would begin a quick 10-0 spurt by the Flames as the lead was pushed to 12. Cabbil scored 5 points during the run and another bucket just a couple possessions later as he quickly reached his season high of 19 points.
Caleb Homesley extended his streak of double figure scoring games to 8, the longest such streak of his career as the Flames and Hatters continued to stay within a 7-11 margin.
Stetson wouldn’t go away, cutting Liberty’s lead to just 3 with 43.7 seconds left in the game following a 10-2 run over the final 3 plus minutes. The Hatters would then force Lovell Cabbil into a jumper from just inside the paint that rimmed out. Stetson’s Keith Matthews would miss a 3 pointer at the buzzer.
The win would give Liberty its 20th of the season, the 3rd consecutive year with 20 or more wins and the 8th 20 win season in program history.
“I thought it lacked effort, energy,” Homesley said of the team’s effort. “We came out with the win, but it wasn’t pretty. I thought we took a step back tonight on the defensive end and offensive end.”
McKay on the win: “This is a privilege to do, not a right. You have to pursue excellence if you put on that jersey, and I didn’t feel we did that on a consistent enough basis tonight. Maybe that was part of the problem, we got seduced into thinking, ‘Hey, they’re 1-8 in the standings and we’re whatever we are. Maybe we thought it was going to be easy, no Division I basketball game is easy .”
Stetson dominated Liberty in 2nd chance points, 13-2, and bench points, 17-8.
After a very good shooting performance from 3 on Saturday against NJIT, the Flames had its worst outing of the season, shooting just 19.4% from behind the arc. 31 attempts from 3-point range are the most in conference play and the most since attempting 35 against Kentucky Christian.
Three Flames reached double figures, led by Cabbil’s 19. He also added 5 rebounds. Homesley finished with 16 points and 6 rebounds while Scottie James had 10 points and 6 rebounds.
After going a perfect 4-for-4 from 3 Saturday night, Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz missed all 4 of his three point attempts tonight.
“This was something that I haven’t seen from our group,” said McKay. “We showed great immaturity in missed shots. We didn’t let a miss end with a miss. We let it carryover to lack of execution defensively, hesitation the next time down, trying to stay in the game by making a shot. Those are not characteristic of our group.”
Liberty will conclude its season long home-stand of 4 games on Saturday when Florida Gulf Coast pays a visit to Lynchburg. The Eagles are currently 9-15 on the season and 4-5 in ASUN play entering their Wednesday night game against North Alabama.