In what was the most anticipated basketball game in a long time, the Liberty Flames were outmatched by the Lipscomb Bisons as the defending ASUN champs seize control of the ASUN regular season race. The final score was 79-59.
“Our pursuit is of being the best in the league,” Coach McKay said. “All over this campus there is a pursuit of excellence. We share in that. We’ve got to get better. Lipscomb showed us a lot of ways that we are not as good as them in.”
The Vines Center was rocking from the tip as the two first place and undefeated ASUN teams settled in for a heavyweight bout. The Bisons would jump out to the an early 10-5 lead thanks to 4 early fouls on Liberty leading Coach McKay to get into the officials. In the opening minutes, he was as animated towards the refs as I’ve seen in a while.
Leading ASUN scorer and Preseason Player of the Year Garrison Mathews was pressured by Elijah Cuffee, Lovell Cabbil, and Keenan Gumbs in the opening minutes as McKay tried to slow him down by giving him different looks.
Lipscomb was firing on all cylinders early as they jumped out to a 27-15 lead with 8:30 left in the first half. This was Liberty’s largest deficit since the Alabama game on December 18th. The Bisons started 58% from the floor while connecting on 4-of-7 three pointers. Meanwhile, the Flames had 9 turnovers early and missed all 9 of its first half three pointers. The lead would grow to as many as 18 in the first half, Liberty’s largest deficit since trailing Georgetown by 23 on December 3rd.
It was 42-24 Lipscomb at the break. The Bisons shot 62% from the field in the first half compared to Liberty’s 38%. Rob Marberry and Garrison Mathews each led the way with 8 points.
Lipscomb started the 2nd half where it left off, forcing a Liberty turnover while getting a dunk on the other end. Rob Marberry continued to give the Liberty defense fits as he battled with Scottie James and Myo Baxter-Bell in the paint. The lead trickled over 20 as Casey Alexander’s squad attempted to put its clamp on this one.
The Flames kept trying to cut into the Lipscomb lead as the crowd tried to get back into it. Liberty cut it to 15 as the crowd came to its feet until a questionable foul call on Caleb Homesley as he attempted to block a Matt Rose 3 pointer at the top of the key. Rose made all 3 of his free throws to push the lead back to 18.
Garrison Mathews would get clear for 3 pointers on consecutive possessions to push the lead to 25, Liberty’s largest deficit of the season, at the 8:10 mark. It would never get within 20 points again. Lipscomb’s largest lead was 29 at the 5:28 mark.
“We’ve got a lot of areas to improve in,” said McKay. “We have to make sure we don’t get complacent when the game is this hyped. We’ve had more national attention for this game than in my 6 years at Liberty. I get for an 18-22 year old, that’s tough to deal with. It’s a little bit elusive or a mirage because you think you’ve arrived, and, obviously, we haven’t arrived.”
At one point the Flames had 1 assist to 10 turnovers. That final stat would be 7 assists and 12 turnovers.
Liberty started the game 0/11 from 3 before Lovell Cabbil found the range from the corner midway through the 2nd half. The Flames would finish the game at 4-for-22.
This is Liberty’s first home loss of the season after starting 10-0.
Lipscomb was shooting over 60% from the floor most of the evening, they finished the game at 55% and 50% from 3. The Flames shot just 37% from the field.
Garrison Mathews led all scorers with 22 points. Marberry finished with 14. Caleb Homesley led the Flames with 12 while Cabbil added 11.
“We’ve got to be tougher,” the senior Cabbil said after the game. “They came in and out-toughed us. They came in and did what they do more times than we did what we do. We got a little reality check that we haven’t won a championship yet regardless of if we’re undefeated. They came in and showed us why they’re the defending champions.”
“Lipscomb is a really good team,” McKay said after the game. “Right now, they are the team to beat in this league. Our next focus needs to be NJIT, but we have a great group of guys. This is not doomsday. We’re going to bounce back.”
The Flames have just begun a 4-game home stand and will return to action on Saturday night at 7pm against 3rd place NJIT.
We’ll leave you with this quote from McKay: “We have a good team that is mature. We’ll bounce back.”