Hosting its first conference tournament game since 2012, the Liberty Flames defeated Jacksonville, 72-58, behind 16 points from Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz and 15 points from Scottie James.
The Flames opened the game with a quick 9-0 spurt, making its first 4 shots while Jacksonville missed their first 5. It didn’t matter if the Dolphins were in man-to-man or a match-up zone, Liberty was able to find the openings and put the ball in the hoop.
First-team all-ASUN selection Scottie James opened with 6 points and fellow first-teamer Caleb Homesley grabbed 3 rebounds before the first media timeout.
Liberty then missed its next 7 field goal attempts as Jacksonville tried to stay in the game, but the Dolphins continued to struggle from the field. Scottie James ended a 6:14 scoring drought with a putback in the paint, but the Flames continued to have a hard time putting the ball in the bucket missing 1-of-12 field goals for a stretch that lasted most of the first half.
A flagrant 2 foul was called on Jacksonville’s David Bell for intentionally pulling Scottie James to the floor by his shoulder at the 5:39 mark of the first half. The Flames responded with a quick 8-0 run in 39 seconds to push the lead to 10 at 23-13. The run extended to 13-2 thanks to hot shooting from the Flames. Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz, Darius McGhee, and Caleb Homesley all hit 3 pointers and Keenan Gumbs got lose on the baseline for a dunk.
Liberty would go into the halftime break with a 34-19 lead behind 12 points from Scottie James and 9 points by Caleb Homesley. Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz also had a solid first half with 8 points.
Jacksonville shot just 6-of-21 from the field in the first half for 28.6% and were 0-of-7 from 3. Leading scorer and 2nd team all-ASUN selection JD Notae was held to 4 points on 2-of-8 from the field and 0-of-4 from 3. He also had 3 first half fouls.
Liberty opened the 2nd half with points from 3 different players (Lovell Cabbil, Elijah Cuffee, and Myo Baxter-Bell) that didn’t score in the first half. Both Cabbil and Cuffee played limited first half minutes due to picking up 2 early fouls. Myo scored 8 points in about 3 minutes as he also got in on the action.
The lead grew to as large as 20 in the opening minutes of the 2nd half before the Dolphins responded with a 12-3 run to cut it to 11 with just over 10 minutes to play. Pacheco-Ortiz would get open in the corner and connect on a 3-pointer to stop the run.
Jacksonville would push the lead to 9 on a couple of occasions, before Liberty would finally answer to stop the run, pushing it to 15 with 5:51 left in the game. Georgie continued his hot play in the 2nd half, as his three pointer, followed by a 3 from Lovell Cabbil pushed the lead to 19 at 68-49 with 4 minutes to play.
Liberty would cruise to the win to advance to the semifinals.
Liberty shot 18-of-21 from the free throw line despite Caleb Homesley missing both his attempts. Scottie James connected on a career-high 7 free throws.
JD Notae was held to 2-of-12 field goals and 0-of-7 from 3, finishing with just 4 points. Jacksonville’s leading scorer was averaging 15.9 points per game entering tonight.
Georgie finished with 16 points on 5-of-9 field goals and 3-of-4 from 3. Scottie had 15 points and 5 rebounds. Caleb Homesley finished with 9 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists. Lovell Cabbil scored 11 points on 3-of-3 field goal shooting. Myo Baxter-Bell finished with 8 points on 3-of-3 shooting.
Liberty led throughout with the game being tied just once at 13.
Jacksonville head coach Tony Jasick: “Hats off to Liberty. I thought they played very well. Give our guys credit, I thought the game could have went one of two ways there in the 2nd half. I thought we did a good job of at least making it a game, we cut it to 9 a couple times, just couldn’t get enough stops to really get that thing down to 5 or 6 and see what happens.”
Jacksonville forward Jace Hogan: “Emotions are high obviously in a game of this magnitude and atmosphere. Dave’s a key component, rebounding on the glass, and just having a low post presence. He just changes how we play. It was kind of bang-bang, no one really expected him to get ejected, but then he was ejected. It kind of deflated us a little bit, and then they hit three 3’s. It was tough.”
Jacksonville guard Aamahne Santos: “We just tried to push in transition, tried to get it and go. They are a team that are going to pack the paint. So, our initial plan was just to get it in transition and see if we could get something early.”
Liberty head coach Ritchie McKay: “Happy to get this one under our belt, was very concerned going into the game because how athletic and well-coached Jacksonville is. We caught a little bit of a break when Bell got the flagrant 2. I didn’t see the play, but I’m glad Scottie’s ok.”
Liberty forward Scottie James: “In the 2nd half we hit a little lapse in defense. We’ve got to clean that up for next game. We’ve got a group of guys that are resilient. We know teams are capable of coming back. We’ve just got to keep fighting.”
Liberty guard Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz: “It is hard (to beat a team 3 times in one year). They know our stuff. They know our plays. They know how Scottie plays inside. It’s really hard, but I think we did a really good job tonight.”
The Flames advance to Thursday night’s ASUN Tournament semifinals. 2-seed Liberty will host 3-seed North Florida who defeated 6-seed North Alabama, 76-66.