Liberty snaps UNC Asheville’s 21-game home winning streak
In order to snap a 13-game losing streak over UNC Asheville, Liberty pulled off the impossible, tying the game in regulation with 1.4 seconds left. After tying the game, the Flames snapped the Bulldogs’ 21-game winning streak at home with the 82-69 overtime victory at Kimmel Arena on Thursday night.
The Flames looked like they were going to take a loss in regulation after UNC Asheville’s Ahmad Thomas hit a fade away jumper with 1.4 seconds left on the clock. Inbounding the basketball underneath his own hoop, Keegan McDowell threw a full court pass to Scottie James, where the big man was able to turn around and sink a jump hook to tie the game and send it into overtime.
Carrying the momentum into overtime, Liberty (17-11, 8-7 BSC) used an 8-0 run to take a 77-69 lead over the Bulldogs. While Liberty was lights out on offense in overtime, shooting 80 percent (4-5) with a trio of makes from three-point range, the defense was the difference maker, as the Flames did not yield a single point to Asheville in the five minutes of overtime.
“Hard to put into words. I am so proud of our effort,” head coach Ritchie McKay said. “We were battling and had some things that didn’t go our way, but that was a resilient team out there.”
James led Liberty with his eighth double-double of the season with a team-high 23 points and 10 rebounds. Developing a good rhythm on offense, Liberty dished out 22 assists led by Lovell Cabbil and Elijah Cuffee with six assists each. The Flames shot 50 percent from three-point range led by Ryan Kemrite, tying his season-high with five three-pointers.
“We have so much excitement in that locker room right now, and it feels good because I have never won here,” Kemrite said. “We haven’t gotten over the hump against them, so to get that monkey off our back was big for us.”
The Flames could not have asked for a better start, holding the Bulldogs (18-10, 11-4 BSC) scoreless for the first 2:50 of the game. While the defense was stingy, James started the game scoring Liberty’s first 10 points of the game. In the first four minutes of the game, Liberty jumped out to a 10-2 lead. Liberty started the game making seven of its first 10 shot attempts in the game while limiting the Bulldogs to 30 percent (3-10) from the field.
Shooting 40 percent (14-35) in the first half and limiting its opponent to 36.4 percent (8-22), Liberty went into halftime with a 33-25 lead. James nearly posted a double-double in the first half alone with a game-high 14 points and nine rebounds. UNC Asheville’s Thomas shot 4-10 in the first half to lead the Bulldogs with 11 points. Liberty did an exceptional job of taking care of the ball in the first half, recording 10 assists while committing just three turnovers. On the other hand, Liberty forced five turnovers while holding UNC Asheville to seven assists. The Flames were effective from three-point range shooting 41.7 percent (5-12) in the first half, led by Kemrite with a trio of makes from beyond the arc.
Using a full court press, UNC Asheville came out attacking in the second half with an 8-2 run to come within two points (35-33) of Liberty’s lead. Thomas got things going for UNC Asheville in the second half with six points in the first five minutes of the second half. The Bulldogs tied the game at the 14:12 mark on a three-pointer (37-37) by Jonathan Baehre, and MaCio Teague’s basket gave them the lead (39-38) on their next possession.
With two minutes to play, the game was tied at 65, and Liberty broke the lead with a James’ layup. With 41 seconds left, Baehre tied the game, and with 27 seconds left, Thomas forced a turnover to give the Bulldogs the final possession.
Both teams went back-and-forth in the second half with five lead changes and nine ties. As James sent the game into overtime, Liberty’s defense locked up, forcing the Bulldogs to go 0-9 from the field. On the other hand, Liberty had six different players score in the extra session led by Cuffee, Kemrite and Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz each with three points.
The Flames will close out the week on the road, wrapping up this week’s road trip at Campbell. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. on Sunday at Gore Arena against the Camels.