Liberty basketball advances to CIT semifinals, defeats Central Michigan

Liberty’s offense answered the call Saturday afternoon at the Vines Center against a potent offense in Central Michigan, shooting over 50 percent to defeat the Chippewas, 86-71. With the win, Liberty advances to the semifinals of Postseason Tournament (CIT) and will face UIC at the Vines Center on Wednesday, March 28.

“I am extremely proud of this group of men. We were good on both ends today,” head coach Ritchie McKay said. “If you get consistency on the defensive then it gives you a chance in the game but today we were good offensively and that was fun for our guys.”

Liberty’s win over CMU puts the Flames at 22-14 on the year, surpassing last year’s win total and continuing to set the record for most wins (43) during a two-year span in school history.

The Flames dished out 23 assists, the most against a Division I opponent since Dec. 31, 2010 (25 at Gardner-Webb). Lovell Cabbil orchestrated the offense all night long, recording a career-high 13 assists and the most by a Liberty player since Jesse Sander’s 16 assists against Montreat on Dec. 20, 2011.

“I was just trying to do a good job of finding our guys when they were open,” Cabbil said. “(Ryan) Kemrite was hot and Scottie (James) was making everything I passed him so I was just trying to put them in positions where they could be successful.”

After exceptional shooting in the first half, Liberty turned it up to a level in the second half shooting 62.1 percent (18-of-29) in the second half as Ryan Kemrite led all scorers with 21 points, including tying his career-high with seven makes from three-point range. Scottie James flirted with a double-double, scoring 20 points and grabbing nine rebounds. In addition to 13 assists, Cabbil also scored seven points and grabbed four rebounds. While shooting 44 percent from three (11-of-25), the Flames were able to control the inside, scoring 40 points inside the paint.

In the first two games of the CIT, Central Michigan (21-15) averaged 96 points (94 at Fort Wayne and 98 at Wofford) and Liberty was able to limit the Chippewas to 71 points, holding them to 44.8 percent (26-of-58) from the floor. Liberty’s defense limited CMU to just 13 assists, while forcing them to commit 12 turnovers.

Central Michigan’s offense got things going to start the game, making six of its 10 shot attempts jumping out to an 11-7 lead. Kemrite kept Liberty in the ball game early with a trio of makes from three-point range in the first six minutes of the game. As the Chippewas continued to stay hot on offense, Josh Kozinsku led the way, scoring 13 points and shooting 66.6 percent (4-of-6) in the first half.

With 17 attempts from three-point range in the first half, Central Michigan converted on six of them and held its largest lead of the half (37-28) with 3:47 left in the half. Looking to get back into the game, Liberty turned up its defense to close out the first half by not allowing CMU to make a field goal in the last 2:24 of the half. While Liberty picked up the defense, its offense went on a 9-0 run to close out the half. The Flames were able to tie the game (39-39) with 20 seconds left off an Elijah Cuffee three-pointer off a James’ rebound.

Liberty shot 50 percent (14-of-28) in the first half as six different players scored led by James with 10 points. Off 14 field goals, Liberty dished out 10 assists while only committing four turnovers.

Liberty’s offense was potent to start the second half, making eight of its first 12 shots while shooting 3-of-4 from three-point range. The Flames were able to take the lead after going on a 9-0 for its biggest lead (62-53) at the time off a three-pointer by Cuffee with 10 minutes left in the game.

The Flames maintained their lead in the final 10 minutes of the half outscoring Central Michigan 24-18. Kemrite (12 points) and James (10 points) led the way on offense in the second half combining for 22 points. In the second half, Liberty had 18 makes from the field and dished out 10 assists on those makes.

The Flames semifinal contest against UIC is set for 7 p.m. at the Vines Center on Wednesday, March 28. Tickets can be purchased here.


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