In what was a classic game, the Liberty Flames outlasted the Lipscomb Bisons, 74-68, to advance to the program’s 4th ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
Lovell Cabbil got the start after injuring his left knee late in the Thursday semifinals. He was listed as a game-time decision, but during warmups he looked like he was ready to go.
Scottie James opened play with Liberty’s first 7 points while grabbing 3 rebounds before the first media timeout as the Flames jumped out to an early 7-5 lead in front of a standing room only Allen Arena on Lipscomb’s campus in Nashville. The Bisons responded with a quick 5-0 burst out of the timeout to regain the lead.
Liberty missed their first 7 three pointers before Keenan Gumbs was able to connect from the corner with 8 minutes left in the first half to cut Lipscomb’s lead to 18-16.
Kenny Cooper scored 7 straight points for the Bisons as they grew their lead to 28-20 while the Flames committed 3 turnovers on 4 possessions. The Flames had 6 turnovers in the game before Lipscomb committed one.
From that time, Liberty would close the half on a 9-0 run to take the lead at 29-28 on a Lovell Cabbil bucket at the first half buzzer. Cabbil scored 4 points during the run. Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz finished the half with 6 points after failing to score in last season’s Big South Championship game.
After opening the game 1-of-10 from 3, the Flames made both of their first two from deep to open the half as Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz and Elijah Cuffee connected. Lovell Cabbil continued his strong play with 4 points in the opening few minutes of the 2nd. Both teams exchanged buckets, leading to a 41-41 tie with 14:40 to play.
Cuffee gave the team its largest lead at 3 with his bucket plus the foul. He was just 1-for-4 from the floor in the first half, but made both of his first two shots in the 2nd as he got up to 8 points. A few minutes later, Caleb Homesley would make his first three pointer of the game to push the lead to 4.
The Bisons would respond with a Garrison Mathews three pointer and bucket by Kenny Cooper in the paint as Lipscomb regained the lead by 1. The Flames would answer with a corner 3 by Lovell Cabbil as the senior reached double figures with 11.
Scottie James made his first basket since prior to the first media timeout of the game with just over 7 minutes to play, giving the Flames the lead back at 56-55. Liberty continued to hold the lead as we came down the stretch, Flames led 61-59 at the final media timeout of the game with 3:58 to play.
Caleb Homesley drew Eli Pepper’s 4th foul after the timeout as he attacked him, making both free throws to push the lead back to 4 before the ASUN Player of the Year Garrison Mathews found some space for a 3 pointer to cut it to 1 with 3:29 left.
Liberty would outlast the Bisons down the stretch, outscoring Lipscomb 9-4 in the final 2 minutes.
Scottie James led the team with 17 points on 7-of-10 field goal shooting while grabbing 8 rebounds. Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz added 16 while Lovell Cabbil chipped in 14 and Caleb Homesley had 11.
Homesley had 11 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists.
The Flames did not miss a free throw in the 2nd half and finished 11-of-12 from the free throw line.
Liberty won despite the Bisons shooting 68.2% from the field in the 2nd half.
There were 18 lead changes in the 2nd half alone.
Caleb Homesley: “At halftime, the coaches said they had 6 offensive rebounds in the first half, and they finished with 7. So, we did really good limiting them to one shot. On the offensive end, we really played at our pace, slowed the game down when they made runs.”
Lovell Cabbil: “That was a huge part of the game (closing the first half on a 9-0 run). It could have gone either way, they could have extended their lead or we could have done what we did, closed the gap.”
Coach McKay: “The quality of our opponent necessitated our best. I’m so proud of our guys, we weathered their storm. This is one of those games that you needed a break or two down the stretch and we were fortunate to get one.”
We wait until Selection Sunday, one week from today, to see where the Flames will head. Most sites have the Flames projected as either a 12 or 13 seed.