Liberty advances to Big South semifinals, defeating Campbell, 73-59

liberty basketballIn a day full of tight contests at Kimmel Arena in the Big South Quarterfinals, Liberty closed out today’s play posting the only double-digit win of the day defeating Campbell 73-59. With the win, the Flames advance to the semifinals to face UNC Asheville.

“Our defense was significantly better tonight than what it was the first two games,” head coach Ritchie McKay said. “I am really happy for our guys because the last two seasons we were gone in the first round.”

The Flames (19-13) picked up their first win in the Big South Tournament since March 10, 2013 when they claimed the title over Charleston Southern. With the victory, the Flames tie the school record for most wins in back-to-back seasons with 40 victories (21 wins in 2016-17) tying the record set back in 1996-97 and now have the chance to be the first team in school history with back-to-back 20-win seasons.

Entering Thursday’s game, the Camels (16-15) shot 58.2 percent from the floor and 63.3 percent from three-point range against Liberty this season and the Flames were able to flip the script in the tournament limiting the Camels to 33.3 (8-24) percent from three and 35.8 (19-53) percent from the floor. While suffocating Campbell’s offense, Liberty’s offense shot 54.9 percent (28-51) for the game with five different players in double figures. Myo Baxter-Bell and Scottie James led Liberty with 14 points each.

“We just tried to make every shot they took as tough as possible,” Cabbil said following the win. “We knew they were going to make some tough ones but we just moved on to the next play.”

The Flames’ bench was key to their win outscoring Campbell’s bench 31-15 led by Baxter-Bell and Caleb Homesley with 12 points to go along with eight rebounds. Lovell Cabbil had the task of guarding Chris Clemons and despite scoring 23 points, Cabbil limited Clemons to 31.8 percent for the night. While guarding Clemons on defense, Cabbil filled the stat sheet on offense scoring 13 points while pulling down seven rebounds and dishing out two assists.

Led by James with four points in the first two minutes, Liberty started the game 6-10 from the field with eight of its points coming inside the paint, jumping out to a 13-9 lead. Liberty’s defense tightened up midway through the half as its defense held Campbell without a field goal for nearly five and a half minutes helping the Flames extend their lead to 20-14.

After starting the half 1-9 from three-point range, Campbell made back-to-back makes in the late in the half to cut Liberty’s lead (31-24) to single digits. The Flames were able to lock up on defense to close out the half, allowing just three points in the final 2:14 of the half. The Flames went into the break with a 37-27 lead. Thirty-seven points was the most points Liberty has scored in a first half in the Big South tournament since March 7, 2013 when the Flames scored 39 against High Point.

The Flames were able to receive scoring contributions from seven of the nine players that played for the Flames in the first half led by Baxter-Bell with 10 points, shooting a perfect 5-5 from the field.

Like the start of the first half, Liberty would get off to an exceptional start on offense in the second half, shooting 80 percent (8-10) to extend its lead to 15 points (55-40) at the 11:37-mark. The Camels were able to respond, holding the Camels scoreless for just over two minutes to come within 10 points (55-45).

Struggling on offense to make a field goal in the final five minutes, Liberty was still able to put points on the board converting from the free-throw line making 7-10 in the second half. Off the bench, Baxter-Bell and Homesley combined to go for 12-13 from the field with 26 points, 10 rebounds and two assists. The Flames’ defense continued to frustrate Campbell’s offense in the second half limiting the Camels to 35.7 percent (10-28) in the second half.

“Tonight was a great win but we have to move on and focus on UNC Asheville,” Cabbil added. “They are a great team so we just have to take it one possession at a time.”

Liberty will now face the No. 1 seed, UNC Asheville, in the semifinals on Friday. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. at Kimmel Arena against the Bulldogs. The game can be seen on ESPN3.

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