Men’s basketball: Liberty pulls out gritty road win over High Point

libertyLiberty began back-to-back road games with a 62-58 win over High Point, Tuesday night at the Millis Center. The Flames overcame several deficits throughout the night and use a strong defensive effort to pull out the gritty win over the Panthers (7-10, 1-4 BSC). With the win, Liberty evens its record at 9-9 and moves to 4-1 in the Big South Conference.

Liberty’s defense went into the game having to deal with High Point’s Miles Bowman Jr. who went into the game averaging the sixth most points during conference games at 17.3 points per game. The Flames’ defense held Bowman Jr. to just six points and as a team High Point shot 41.7 percent from the floor. Going into Wednesday night’s contest, Liberty was 1-8 after trailing at halftime and against the Panthers, Liberty outscored HPU 40-25 to come away with the victory.

“I really felt like we took a step defensively,” head coach Ritchie McKay said. “This may get us to where we want to go in the second half of the season. We were hard to score against on more possessions tonight, than we were in a while.”

Early in the game, the Flames looked to establish Myo Baxter-Bell in the paint, and it paid off, as the redshirt sophomore scored Liberty’s first six points of the night.

Both teams struggled to develop a consistent scoring attack to open the game. The Panthers stayed in it by outrebounding the Flames 10-3 in the first nine minutes of the game.      High Point went on an 8-0 run midway through the first half to take a 12-6 lead with 10 points in the paint. A lay-up by Andre Fox capped the run at 9:04.

The Panthers increased their lead as high as nine points at 17-8 on a jumper by Austin White with 7:23 remaining in the opening half.

Despite Liberty’s offensive struggles during the first half, its defense held tight. The Flames held the Panthers to 23 points in the half, tying the fewest points they have allowed in the first half to a Big South opponent this season.

The three-ball became Liberty’s best friend at the end of the game’s opening half, draining three from behind the arc during the final three minutes to close the gap. Despite digging a hole early in the half, Liberty ended the final six minutes on a 12-6 run to trail by just one point, 23-22 at halftime.
After the Flames’ Lovell Cabbil gave Liberty lead on a layup to open the second half, High Point quickly regained its advantage and held onto its edge for the next eight minutes. However, visiting Liberty remained within striking distance, trailing by no more than four points during the span.

Both teams struggled to get a rhythm on offense during the early part of the second half, as 12 foul were called in the first 6:30. Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz tied the game at 32-32 with 12 minutes left in the game on a jumper, and A.C. Reid gave the Flames a two-point lead, 34-32, on a pair of free throws at 11:32.

After exchanging the lead over the next few minutes, High Point used a three-pointer, followed up by a pair of free throws to take a 43-28 lead with nine minutes left. After Liberty cut its deficit to one, High Point jumped back out to a six-point lead with seven minutes left.

Once again, the Flames trimmed the home team’s edge to one with just under five minutes left in the game.

After a quite night on offense for most of the game, Liberty’s Ryan Kemrite nailed a big three-pointer to tie the game at 53-all with 2:30 left in the game.

High Point then retook the lead with a free throw, only to see Kemrite once again stepped up and hit his second straight three-pointer to give Liberty a 56-54 lead with two minutes left.

After taking the lead, Liberty was clutch at the free-throw line, going a perfect 6-for-6 in the final 1:15 of the game.

The freshman trio of Baxter-Bell, Pacheco-Ortiz and Brock Gardner combined for 31 points, nine rebounds and four assists.

“It was a great team win because guys stepped up at the right time and it was different guys,” Gardner said. “The message from coach (McKay) was to focus on our defense and eventually our defense led to our offense and we executed down the end.”

The Flames will close out this week on the road with a matchup against Radford on the road. Both teams went into Wednesday night as one of five teams tied for first place in the Big South.

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