Liberty (10-4, 2-1) knocks off Kennesaw State, 69-63, to begin a two-game series at Liberty Arena this weekend. It’s the Flames second straight win after dropping its ASUN opener at Lipscomb a week ago.
“Hard fought game,” Liberty head coach Ritchie McKay said. “Glad we were victorious. I have a lot of respect for Kennesaw and the season that they are having. It’s just a matter of time before they get some wins because they’ve played some quality basketball. I think there are a lot of things that we can work on, and we will have a chance to do that again tomorrow.”
Both the Flames and the Owls struggled to find any sort of offensive rhythm to begin the game. Both teams combined to miss their first 13 field goal attempts to begin the game and it remained scoreless until the 14:39 mark of the first half when Kennesaw State freshman Chris Youngblood got on the board with a bucket. It was Kennesaw’s 12th field goal attempt of the game. The Owls would jump out to a 12-0 lead before Liberty got on the scoreboard with an Elijah Cuffee free throw at the 11:26 mark.
This wasn’t the first time Kennesaw State had an early lead on an ASUN opponent, as the Owls led Jacksonville 14-0 to begin last Friday, Jan. 1 game in both team’s ASUN opener. The Dolphins would go on to win that game, 62-57.
Drake Dobbs would make Liberty’s first field goal of the evening at the 10:13 mark of the first half as the Flames cut the Owls’ lead to 12-7 in a hurry. Dobbs would also have a pretty assist as he drove to the bucket and found an open Blake Preston for the lay in.
Liberty would find their offensive groove as the Flames would take the lead in the closing minutes of the first half and go into the locker room with a 31-30 lead. Shiloh Robinson paced the team with 8 first half points while Keegan McDowell, Blake Preston, and Chris Parker each had 5 points. The Flames’ starters were just 4 for 16 from the field in the first half while the bench was 6 for 7. The Liberty bench outscored KSU’s bench, 18-4.
“I thought Shiloh made a significant impact in the first half,” said McKay. “Our group has been getting off to pretty good starts with the exception of the first Lipscomb one and tonight, but we have a little deeper bench than we’ve had since we’ve been here. That’s certainly a luxury for the coaching staff.”
Thanks to a 7-2 Liberty run to end the first half and a 12-0 start to the second half, the Flames seized control of the game. Just like the beginning of the game, Kennesaw State struggled from the field to open the second half, missing their first seven field goals and Liberty pushed its lead to double figures.
Kennesaw State wouldn’t go away quietly as they hung around for the remainder of the game, cutting Liberty’s lead to as low as 7 on two different occasions including with just 1:32 left in the game. The Owls would also get within 6 in the final minute on a couple of occasions.
Blake Preston would lead the way for the Flames with 17 points and Chris Parker and Darius McGhee would also reach double figures with 13 and 10, respectively. It was a career high in scoring for Preston.
The Owls have now lost 28 straight Division I games and 20 consecutive ASUN games as second year head coach Amir Abdur-Rahim is 1-36 in his two seasons with the Owls against Division I opponents and has yet to win a conference game.
The Flames and Owls will be back in action on Saturday evening at 5 pm from Liberty Arena.