Liberty led the entire way, and by double digits for the majority of the game, as the Flames coasted to a 54-37 win over Jacksonville. With the win, the Flames move to 18-1 overall and 4-0 in ASUN play. Liberty now stands alone at the top of the league standings following North Florida’s home loss to NJIT.
“Our guys were really good defensively today,” Coach McKay said following the game. “I think Jacksonville is a really good team. They play both ends of the floor with a lot of discipline and a nice spirit of execution. Our first shot defense was really terrific. If there was an area we could improve it would be defensive rebounding.”
As could be expected with the two best defenses in the ASUN, both teams struggled to find any offensive rhythm in the early minutes. The first points came at 16:17 when Elijah Cuffee got open and buried a three-pointer, he entered the game leading the conference at 47.5% from three this season.
Jacksonville missed its first 7 shots and didn’t get on the board until the 14:26 mark of the first half when Aamahne Santos got free for a long two-point jumper. Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz scored 5 quick points as he got fouled shooting a three and made all three free throws. When he got fouled, he fell into a young boy seated courtside who was eating popcorn. Georgie helped himself to a handful drawing audible laughs from the crowd.
Caleb Homesley missed a floater but he was able to rebound his miss and slam it home as the Flames took a 10-2 lead into the under 12 media timeout. The lead would grow to 16-2 before JU’s David Bell was able to get a putback.
Liberty’s strong defense continued throughout the first half as the Dolphins didn’t reach double figures until the 5:27 mark. Ohio State transfer David Bell was the only offense Jacksonville had in the first half, as the Big South’s leading rebounder was able to make his mark on the offensive glass. He scored 7 of his team’s first 10 points as Liberty went into the final media timeout of the first half with a 23-10 lead.
The Flames would go into the locker with a 27-12 lead as Liberty held Jacksonville to 19% shooting from the field and 0-for-6 from three. Pacheco-Ortiz led the way with 10 first half points while Scottie James and Elijah Cuffee each had 6.
Jacksonville finally made its first three pointer at the 17:13 mark of the second half. The Dolphins were able to cut it to 10, the closest it had been since early in the first half, before Darius McGhee responded with a couple of triples. He was only 1-of-4 from behind the arc on the afternoon before finding some space to help push the Liberty lead to 35-19 forcing JU head coach Tony Jasick to call a timeout with 13:57 left.
The lead would balloon to 20 as McGhee’s threes sparked a 10-0 Liberty run. The 5’9″ guard would get a lay-in and Myo Baxter-Bell would get his first points of the day pushing the lead to 39-19 with 11:02 left in the game. Baxter-Bell began the day with the protective mask that he wore Thursday evening when he led the team with 16 points. After his first stint on the floor, he removed the mask and played the remainder of the game without it.
The Dolphins wouldn’t go away without a fight as they went on a 9-2 run to cut the lead to 13 before Caleb Homesley made just his second field goal of the game as the Flames led 43-28 at the under 8 media timeout.
McGhee would continue his strong play in the second half. After scoring just 3 points in the first half, his 11 points paced the team in the second stanza. His three pointer with 5 minutes left put the Flames up by 17 at 48-31.
McKay was able to get some additional guys minutes down the stretch as Josh Price and Blake Preston got into the game as the Flames cruised to the win.
McGhee finished with a team high 14 points as he made 4-of-8 three pointers. Pacheco-Ortiz finished with 12 points while Elijah Cuffee added 10. Scottie James had 6 points and 9 rebounds while only attempting 4 field goals. Homesley finished with 8 points and 7 rebounds, he struggled from the floor making just 4-of-13 shots.
Liberty is off for a week as the Flames will return to action next Saturday in the Vines Center. Liberty plays host to Lipscomb in a rematch from last season’s ASUN Tournament Championship game.