The Liberty Flames responded from Tuesday night’s disappointment with an impressive win over 3rd place NJIT, 77-57.
“I told my team in the locker room I was very proud of them,” McKay said after the win. “I think having lost the way we did to Lipscomb, it could be like 2 losses, or it felt like 2 losses. The build-up and the way we lost, you could just feel the deflation. Tonight, I thought was a very mature win, and I was so elated for our guys.”
After struggling his prior three 3 games, Liberty made it a priority to get the ball to Scottie James early and often. The 6’8″ big man touched the ball on all 4 of the Flames’ opening possessions as he scored 7 points on 3/3 shooting and had 1 assist. The Flames opened a perfect 5/5 from the floor to jump out to an early lead.
The Highlanders were here to prove they belong to mentioned as an ASUN title contender. Abdul Lewis flexed his muscles with 10 early points as he was a menace in the paint and from behind the arc, knocking down his first two three point attempts as NJIT stayed close in the opening minutes.
Both teams shot near 60% and traded buckets much of the half. Scottie James and Caleb Homesley provided most of the offense for the Flames. Scottie scored 11 points in the first half on 5/6 shooting from the field while Homesley led all scorers with 12 points while also connecting on 5 of his 6 shots.
NJIT’s leading scorer Zach Cooks was held to just 5 field goal attempts in the first half, missing all of them. Lovell Cabbil provided his per usual tough defense on the opposition’s top perimeter scoring threat. Cooks entered the game
Liberty went on a 17-2 run to take a 40-28 lead into the locker room.
Scottie James opened the second half the same way he opened the game with dominating play in the paint. He extended the Liberty opening possession to a full minute with his work on the offensive glass.
Following Caleb Homesley’s three pointer to open the scoring in the 2nd half, the Highlanders went on an 8-0 run to cut Liberty’s lead to 7 before Homesley drove and found a wide open Scottie James for a lay up to halt the run. Homesley’s play continues to warrant serious consideration for first-team all-ASUN consideration.
Cabbil completely shut Zach Cooks down, taking him out of the game. He missed his first 8 field goal attempts before he finally got in the scoring column at the 5:46 mark of the 2nd half.
“Don’t bring up Lovell’s name because we only have 3 more regular season home games with him,” McKay said when asked about Cabbil’s defensive performance. “I’ve seen him play over 100 times live, and I’m dreading the last time I watch him live. He’s one of the best 2-way players in the region. I thought he was really good. Zach Cooks can play, that dude’s a bucket. Lovell did a great job.”
His play on the defensive end of the floor lifted his play on offense as Cabbil had a very solid game with 13 points and 5 assists.
“It’s easier to play a basketball game with a lead than without it,” said McKay. “We put a little bit of pressure on their offense when we started scoring the ball so effectively.”
The Flames had 4 players that reached double figures, led by Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz who had 18 points on just 6 field goal attempts while making all 4 of his 3-pointers and all 4 of his free throws. He scored 9 points in the final 4:43.
Caleb Homesley finished with 17 points and 8 rebounds while Scottie James had his 6th double-double of the season with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
Liberty won the rebounding battle with 37 to NJIT’s 25.
The Flames’ had its worst bench production of the season as reserves only scored 4 points. Darius McGhee, who injured his ankle Tuesday night against Lipscomb and was a game-time decision, was scoreless in his 7 plus minutes of game action.
After struggling from behind the arc in 3 of the last 4 games, including a 4-for-22 outing Tuesday, the Flames returned to form by connecting on 11-of-24 three pointers tonight, good for 45.8%.
“We had a sour taste in our mouths after the Lipscomb loss,” Cabbil said. “We’ve been eager to get back on the court and just play a game. We had pretty competitive practices, just able to get back to doing what we do well.”
The Flames return to action Tuesday night in the 3rd game of 4 straight at the Vines Center. Liberty will play host to Stetson who is currently 5-19 overall and 1-8 in ASUN play after picking up their first conference win Saturday afternoon against Kennesaw State.. It will be rematch from January 9th, when the Flames defeated the Hatters, 71-53, in Florida.