The Liberty Flames moved to 16-1 on the season and 2-0 in ASUN play following the team’s 65-38 win at NJIT on Saturday afternoon.
For the second consecutive game, the Flames were led by preseason ASUN Player of the Year Caleb Homesley who had a game high 20 points. He scored 24 on Thursday night in Liberty’s ASUN opening win over Florida Gulf Coast.
Both teams struggled from the floor at the start of the game, making just 2-of-13 shots by the first media timeout as we were tied at 4. Scottie James got some nice looks early, unable to connect on any of them, but he did get to the foul line for two points. Caleb Homesley made Liberty’s first bucket, a reverse layup more than 4 minutes into game action.
Elijah Cuffee got the early defensive assignment on the ASUN’s leading scorer Zach Cooks. Cooks entered the game scoring 22.2 points per game, which ranked 8th nationally. In the two games last season, Lovell Cabbil did a tremendous job in shutting the dynamic scorer. The Flames continued their strong play on Cooks, as he was held to just 2 points and 0-for-6 shooting from the field in the first half.
Out of the first timeout, the Highlanders went on a quick 5-0 burst to grab an early lead thanks to a couple of Liberty turnovers. The Flames would get a bucket from Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz and a three-pointer from Kyle Rode to cut the lead to 11-9 by the under 12 timeout.
Both teams got into a shouting matchup following a jump ball. NJIT’s head coach Brian Kennedy would get called for a technical on the heels of the brief skirmish. It helped spark a 16-2 run by the Flames who took a 19-11 lead behind an early 6 points from Pacheco-Ortiz.
The Highlanders wouldn’t go away easily as they responded with a corner triple from San Antonio Brinson to cut the Liberty lead to 5 at 21-16. Homesley began to heat up as he got to 8 points thanks to a couple of beautiful moves as the Flames pushed the lead to 9 at 27-18 at the final media timeout of the first half. Shiloh Robinson would get the final bucket of the half to give Liberty a 29-18 advantage.
The Flames held NJIT to 26.9% shooting from the field and 20% from three-point range in the opening half while Liberty struggled to just 1-of-9 from three.
Liberty would turn that mark around quickly as the Flames connected on three triples in the opening minutes of the second half, two by Homesley and one by Darius McGhee as Liberty’s lead ballooned to 38-24 at the 15:07 mark of the second half.
The fun didn’t stop there as Myo Baxter-Bell even got in on the action from behind the line. The Flames made 6-of-8 threes as we headed towards the under 12 media timeout as Liberty’s lead jumped to a game-high at 49-26. The Flames wouldn’t look back as the lead never got below 20 points again as Liberty coasted to the win.
In addition to Homesley’s 20 points, the Flames were led in scoring by Kyle Rode who was the only other Liberty player to reach double figures, finishing with 10 points while Scottie James led the team with 10 rebounds.
Zach Cooks leads the ASUN in scoring at 22.2 points per game, entering Saturday’s contest. He had scored 20 or more points in 11-of -3 games this season. Cooks continued to struggle against the Flames, finishing with 3 points and 0-for-12 from the field. In his three games against Liberty, Cooks has scored 11 points on 3-of-34 shooting.
Liberty held the Highlanders to 23.5% shooting from the field. The Flames also dominated the paint, 32-12.
After being away from the Vines Center since December 2nd, Liberty will return to the Vines Center for a home clash this Thursday against North Alabama. The Lions opened ASUN play with a win over Jacksonville at home, 62-57, on Thursday.