Liberty struggles on offense in loss to Winthrop

libertyLiberty hosted Winthrop for a Whiteout in front of 4,158 fans Saturday night at the Vines Center. Ranked No. 25 in the College Insider Mid-Major Poll, the Eagles secured first place in the Big South with a 61-48 win over the host Flames. Liberty falls to 11-10 overall and 6-2 in the Big South, while Winthrop moves to 15-4 overall and 7-1 in conference.

Ryan Kemrite led Liberty with 15 points and moved into a tie in 43rd place on Liberty’s all-time scoring list with 683 career points with Nathan Day. Winthrop’s Anders Broman scored a game-high 19 points, shooting 6-8 from three-point range. Liberty was able to hold Winthrop to its lowest scoring output in conference play this season, as the Eagles had scored 72 points or more in its seven conference games.

Tonight certainly wasn’t our night but I don’t want to take anything away because they (Winthrop) because they were good on both ends of the court,” head coach Ritchie McKay said. “It was a physical game and I thought we were a little anxious tonight. It was a great turnout and I was really pleased with our student body and everyone in the community.”

Liberty got its fans on their feet right from the tipoff. Myo Baxter-Bell threw down a dunk on the Flames’ first possession to give the Flames a 2-0 lead, after which both teams played exceptional defense. The teams combined to shoot 33.3 percent (4-12) in the first five minutes of action.

The Eagles went on a 7-0 run over a five minute span early in the first to take a 9-5 lead. A layup by Winthrop forward Adam Pickett at 12:17 capping the spurt. Over the next three minutes, Liberty held Winthrop to 2-12 from the field over the course of three minutes, moving to within one at 9-8 on a Baxter-Bell free throw at9:56.

Points were hard to come during the first12 minutes play, as a combined 14 fouls were called and only 19 points were on the scoreboard

After Baxter-Bell’s free throw, Winthrop ran off eight unanswered points over the next 3:46. A Keon Johnson lay-up at the six minute mark, giving the Eales a 17-8 advantage.

Meanwhile, the Flames struggled on offense, going scoreless for nearly five minutes. Liberty struggled from behind the three-point arc in the first half, making 1-of-15 attempts.

Liberty held Winthrop to the fewest points they have scored in a half during Big South games but after struggling to score themselves, the Flames went into halftime trailing 26-15.

Liberty shot 19.2% (5-of-26) from the field in the half, while Winthrop shot only 29.9% (7-of-23).

McKay had to go to his bench in the opening half, playing nine guys as six players (Baxter-Bell, Cabbil, Dawson, Gardner, Pacheco-Ortiz, Ezra Talbert) each picked up two fouls.

Baxter-Bell kept Liberty within reaching distance during the first half, scoring seven points.

Going into the game, Winthrop’s Xavier Cooks averaging 15.7 points per game while Keon Johnson was second in the conference, averaging 20.5 points per game; the Flames were able to limit Cooks in the first half scoring just two points while Johnson scored seven points.

Looking to pick up its offense in the second half, Liberty started with a three-pointer by Kemrite but Winthrop was able to extend its lead to 20 points (44-24) midway through the second half.

Liberty looked to cut into Winthrop’s lead, rattling off consecutive buckets with 5:30 left, but Bowman answered with one of his six threes in the contest to limit the damage and maintain the Eagles’ double-digit advantage.

The Flames will head back on the road in the Big South Conference next week as they begin their road trip against Longwood.

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