During the 2008-09 season, the Flames won their 10th game on Dec. 28 during McKay’s first stint at Liberty. With tonight’s win, Liberty improves to 10-5 on the season and 1-1 in the Big South, while Charleston Southern falls to 6-7 and 1-1 in conference.
“It wasn’t pretty at the beginning and it is very uncharacteristic of us to turn it over 22 times,” head coach Ritchie McKay said following the game. “But what I like about our group is that we responded and we responded with our older guys. We didn’t shoot great, but we stayed consistent on the defensive end.”
Going into the game, Pacheco-Ortiz’s career high in three-pointers made in a game was four (at Winthrop on Feb. 8, 2017) and on Tuesday night against the Bucs, the sophomore went 7-of-8 from beyond the arc. Pacheco-Ortiz also went 6-of-8 from the free-throw line for a season-high 27 points.
“I was feeling great and once I saw my first three go in, I wanted to keep shooting,” Pacheco-Ortiz said. “My teammates trust me and they did a great job of finding me in open spots.”
Scottie James posted his sixth double-double of the season with 14 points to go along with a career-high 15 rebounds. The Flames shot 50 percent (21-of-42) from the floor, while limiting the Bucs to 30.8 percent (16-of-52). Liberty had the task of trying to stop CSU’s Christian Keeling, who came into the game averaging 18.3 points per contest, and the Flames’ defense limited Keeling to just 10 points and 25 percent (2-of-8) from the field.
Not only did Pacheco-Ortiz and James post career highs, but freshman Elijah Cuffee came off the bench to record a career-high five assists, while also chipping in three points and four rebounds.
A sluggish start plagued the Flames with four turnovers on their first seven possessions, allowing the Bucs jumped out to a 16-11 lead midway through the opening period. With his teammates needing a spark, Ezra Talbert came off the bench to make a difference by scoring four points off two assists from James.
Liberty’s defense was exceptional throughout the first half, limiting Charleston Southern to 30 percent (8-of-27) from the field. Turning the corner to take the lead was sparked by the duo of James and Pacheco-Ortiz combining for 20 of Liberty’s 30 points in the first half. Pacheco-Ortiz got hot from three-point range, converting on 3-of-5 from beyond the arc in the first half. James came close to a double-double in the first half alone with nine points and eight rebounds.
Charleston Southern ended the first half on a 2:15 scoring draught and maked just two of its last 12 field goal attempts. Liberty would go into halftime with a 30-25 lead despite committing 12 turnovers on offense. Despite the dozen giveaways, Liberty’s defense limited the damage as the Bucs scored just six points off Liberty’s turnovers. The Flames were effective in the first 20 minutes from beyond the arc, shooting 54.5 percent (6-of-11) from three-point range.
The Bucs opened the second half shrinking Liberty’s lead to just one point (38-37) with 13:28 left in the game and Liberty responded with a 13-3 run to extend its lead to 51-40. Sparking the run off the bench was Homesley, who scored eight points in eight minutes. The redshirt sophomore would score all of his 11 points in the second half.
Liberty’s bench was key in extending the lead in the second half, as they outscored CSU’s bench 16-6 in the final 20 minutes of action. The Flames turned the corner in the second half, as they were more efficient on offense shooting 52.6 percent (10-of-19) from the field with nine assists. Pacheco-Ortiz continued his three-point barrage shooting a perfect 4-of-4 in the second half from three-point range.
“It was great to get this win because we were upset by the way we played at Gardner-Webb,” Pacheco-Ortiz added. “We want to get back on track and this is a step in the right direction. We have to keep building layers and continue to get better.”
Liberty will close out the weekend at home as they take on Presbyterian. Tipoff is set for 4 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 6, at the Vines Center.