Liberty basketball ends regular season with a win on Senior Day

liberty basketballIn the final day of the regular season, Liberty displayed one of its best defensive outings of the season as the Flames defeated High Point, 65-45. For the first time since 1997, the Flames have posted back-to-back winning seasons, as the Flames end the regular season with an 18-13 record overall and a 9-9 record in the Big South.

“I really felt like our group showed some maturity today,” head coach Ritchie McKay said. “We were disappointed with our effort on Thursday (against Radford) and I thought we were mature today. We battled on each possession.”

As the day started with Senior Day honoring Zach Farquhar and a marriage proposal from Ryan Kemrite to his girlfriend and former Liberty volleyball player Michelle Melendez. As the seniors were honored at the Vines, the underclassmen stole the show as redshirt sophomore Scottie James scored a game-high 21 points to go along with seven rebounds. Freshman Elijah Cuffee filled the stat sheet with 11 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals.

Kemrite ended his Senior Day with nine points and continues adding to his school record in career three-pointers (243) with two on the afternoon.

“I think it was pretty special,” Kemrite said referring to the Senior Day ceremonies. “We have a great group of guys and they are my brothers for my life, so it was great to come out with a win.”

Defense was the difference maker all game for the Flames, holding High Point to 30.8 percent (16-of-52) for the game, forcing 14 turnovers and converting those turnovers into 18 points. As High Point (14-15, 9-9) was turnover prone in the game, Liberty took care of the ball, committing just five turnovers to tie a season-low. The Flames dished out 14 assists led by Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz with a game-high five.

After ending Thursday’s game in a shooting slump, Liberty got things going to start the game against the Panthers shooting 63 percent during the first five minutes of the game, jumping out to an 11-7 lead. Liberty started to build its lead midway through the half, making four straight field goals at one point to take a 23-14 lead at the 8:09 mark. Sparking the run was Caleb Homesley, who came off the bench with five points, a rebound and an assist in eight minutes.

Liberty would attempt to push its lead to double-digits to end the first half, but was never able to as the Flames went into the break leading HPU, 30-24. Protecting the three-point line, Liberty limited High Point to just two makes in the first half from beyond the arc. Liberty was effective at sharing the ball, handing out 10 assists in the first half as Pacheco-Ortiz handed out four while Cuffee and Homesley each dished out three.

The Flames came out in the second half and left no doubt, outscoring High point 35-21 and shooting 50 percent (12-of-24) in the final 20 minutes. While the offense was in a rhythm, the defense turned it up allowing High Point to make just eight field goals throughout the second half.

“We got good tips and deflections (on defense) and we were able to get out in transition,” Kemrite said. “When we take care of the ball we find good shots and that is what we did tonight.”

Liberty’s seeding for the Big South Men’s Basketball Championship remains up in the air with the possibility of finishing as the No. 5, No. 7 or No. 8 seed. Seeding will be announced later this evening.