Liberty (2-2) concluded its first week of the 2020-21 season with a 56-52 loss to TCU (3-0) in the championship game of the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City on Sunday.
Micaiah Abii drained a three pointer to get the Flames on the board before the Flames missed its next four field goal attempts. Liberty was doubling Horned Frogs’ big man Kevin Samuel every time he touched the ball on offense early in the game. TCU took a 5-3 lead into the first media timeout of the game.
The struggles shooting would continue for the Flames as Liberty missed 1 of 8 field goal attempts during a TCU 10-0 as they claimed a 12-3 lead. Darius McGhee would make a triple to end the run as Liberty trailed 12-6 with 13 minutes to play in the first half.
The Flames’ defense kept them in the game early as Liberty opened the game 6 of 18 from the field and 2 of 11 from three point range. Abii had a beautiful shot fake from the top of the key as he drove the ball to the hoop and got the bucket and the foul. Chris Parker continued his solid play as he was able to break down the defense and get two buckets at the rim as the Flames hung around, trailing 17-14 with 6:21 left in the opening half.
Parker and McGhee carried the Liberty offense in the first half. The backcourt combined for 11 of the team’s first 18 points. The Flames’ pack-line defense held TCU to 37% shooting from the floor to keep the team within striking distance as Liberty tried to maintain its legs playing in the fourth game in five days. The Horned Frogs led 21-18 at the 3:53 mark of the first half.
After opening the first half 2 of 13 from three point range, Keegan McDowell and Chris Parker were able to each cash in from deep in the final minutes of the first half. TCU went into the locker room sporting a 27-26 lead. Liberty was led by Chris Parker’s 9 points.
The Flames missed their first six field goal attempts of the second half, but the defense continued to keep the team close as TCU held a slight lead at 31-28 at the 15:48 mark. Parker got the roll on his three pointer, followed by a nice cut and finish by Elijah Cuffee under the basket to give the Flames the lead with 13 minutes left in the game, 33-32.
A 9-0 run for the Horned Frogs pushed them ahead 45-36, their largest lead since midway through the first half and tied for their largest lead of the game. Shiloh Robinson was able to stop the run with a bucket in the paint, but the Flames’ offensive struggles would continue.
Liberty wouldn’t go away without a fight though. The Flames trailed by 9 with 2 minutes left but would go on a 7-0 to cut the lead to 2 and had possession of the ball in the waning seconds with a chance to tie or take the lead. McGhee buried a three pointer to cut the Horned Frogs lead to 54-48 at the 1:58 mark. Then two TCU turnovers within 2 seconds led to a Keegan McDowell and Darius McGhee bucket to cut the lead to 2 with 30 seconds left. Liberty would then foul Taryn Todd who missed the front end of the one and one.
The Flames were unable to get a shot off though, as Parker dribbled around looking for space before the ball was knocked out of bounds with 2 seconds left. Elijah Cuffee’s inbounds pass to McGhee was lost out of bounds, and TCU would sink 2 free throws after being fouled to seal the game.
McGhee led the Flames with 15 points and 9 rebounds. He was just 6 of 16 from the field and 2 for 10 from three. Chris Parker was the only other Flame to reach double figures as he added 13.
Liberty returns to action on Thursday with the first ever men’s basketball game to be played at the brand new Liberty Arena when the Flames play host to St Francis (PA) at 7 p.m. The Red Flash are 1-1 on the season with a win over Pitt. They face Virginia in Charlottesville on Tuesday.
*photo courtesy Liberty Athletics