Liberty got exactly what it needed after two straight losses, a resounding victory, defeating Kennesaw State, 83-45. With the win, the Flames pick up their 20th win of season for the fourth consecutive year.
Liberty remains in a tie for first place in the ASUN at 6-2. North Florida defeated Stetson, 78-65, in a battle of first place teams. The Hatters drop to 5-3 while the Ospreys move to 6-2 and continue to be tied with Liberty.
“I thought our guys did a really good job defensively,” Liberty head coach Ritchie McKay said. “I thought that we showed a lot of maturity. I felt like we took a step and grew a little bit.”
The Flames made it a point to get the ball to Scottie James early as he was featured on most of the team’s opening possessions, scoring four of the team’s first seven points. The others came thanks to an Elijah Cuffee three-pointer, a good sight to see as he had made just one of his prior 13 from behind the arc. Liberty entered the first media timeout at 15:30 with the score tied at 7.
Scottie would add a free through out of the timeout before Myo Baxter-Bell checked in for him, and Baxter-Bell would add four quick points as the post combo scored 9 of Liberty’s first 12 points in the game. Kyle Rode would pick up 2 quick fouls as he went to the bench at the 11:47 mark of the first, Flames leading 14-11. Colton Reed would check in for Rode.
The Owls would go cold, held scoreless for over 5 minutes, as Liberty went on a 7-0 run to take a 23-13 lead with 5:36 left in the first half. Cuffee scored 5 points during the run as he made his 2nd three pointer and a layup in transition to cap the burst.
The run wouldn’t stop as the Flames scored 14 straight, keeping Kennesaw State off the board for more than 8 minutes. The Owls only scored 2 points in over 10 minutes as Liberty pushed its lead to 30-13 with 2:13 left in the first half.
The run would end at 17 straight as Liberty seized a commanding 33-13 lead before the Owls would end the run with a pair of Tyler Hooker free throws with 36 seconds left in the first half. KSU would finish the final 10:39 of the half without making a field goal, but Hooker would get three more free throws as he was fouled with 0.6 seconds left. Liberty went into the break with a 34-18 halftime lead.
After connecting on 14-of-29 three point field goals in the four games prior to Thursday night’s game, sophomore guard Darius McGhee couldn’t buy a bucket in the opening minutes as he missed his first 6 shots, 5 of them from behind the arc.
Cuffee led the Flames in scoring in the first half with 11 points as he made three triples. Scottie James added 8 points and 8 rebounds and Baxter-Bell had 8 points on a perfect 4-of-4 shooting in just over 5 minutes of action.
Kennesaw State shot just 26.1% from the field in the first half, missing their last 11 attempts.
Liberty would continue to hold KSU without a made field goal into the second half as they went 15 minutes and 6 seconds without a field goal as the Flames pushed the lead to 46-22. Scottie James continued to flex his muscles as he quickly got a double-double, as he led the Flames with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
The Flames scored on 13 consecutive possessions to open the 2nd half as the lead ballooned to over 30 points.
Five Flames would reach double figures led by Scottie James who would finish the game with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Myo Baxter-Bell added 11 points as he was a perfect 5-of-5 from the field. Caleb Homesley added 15 points while Elijah Cuffee and Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz both had 11.
Blake Preston had 5 very productive minutes off the bench as he scored 5 points and grabbed 2 rebounds while making both of his field goal attempts.
Liberty finished the game shooting 56.1% from the floor while Kennesaw State was held to 37%.
“No one wanted to lose last week,” said McKay. “I think they were a little down and maybe discouraged. I think we turned the page quickly at the beginning of the week.”
Liberty is back in action Saturday night at 7 against Florida Gulf Coast in the Vines Center as both teams begin their 2nd leg of ASUN regular season play. The Flames defeated the Eagles, 59-46, back on January 2nd.