Augusta Free Press

Three-point shooting, stingy defense lead Liberty past Winthrop

Looking for its first home win since Jan. 6, Liberty delivered an all-around impressive effort to defeat Winthrop 77-61 Thursday night. Liberty (14-10, 5-6 BSC) completes the sweep over the Eagles (13-9, 7-4 BSC) for the first time since the 2003-04 season.

“This was the most complete performance we have had in a while,” head coach Ritchie McKay said. “We did a good job offensively of establishing a presence inside and we showed a sense of togetherness.”

A force in the first half with 15 points, Liberty’s Scottie James ended the game tying his career-high with 21 points, shooting 60 percent (9-15) from the field to go along with eight rebounds. The Flames were moving the ball all night on offense recording 16 assists led by Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz five assists.

The Flames were lethal all night from three-point range, shooting 50 percent (11-22) with seven players making a three led by Caleb Homesley tying a career-best four makes from beyond the arc.

“This was good win for our fans and our team because we had not won at home in a while,” Homesley said. “A win like this can help bring our team together.”

Against a potent Winthrop offense averaging 82.9 points per game, Liberty held the Eagles 21 points below their average as they were held to under 70 points for just the second time this season (loss 55-69 Dec. 19, 2017 at VCU).

“Defensively they (Winthrop) are hard to guard,” McKay added. “Xavier Cooks is a tough matchup for anyone but I felt like we did enough to make them earn it. I am pleased with our effort because it was sound and it was continuous.”

It was a battle of the big men to start the game between Cooks and James as the two combined for 13 points in the first four and a half minutes of the game. Cook scored Winthrop’s first seven points while James was responsible for six of Liberty’s first 10 points. Good ball movement and a presence inside the paint sparked an early for the Flames. With eight points inside the paint in the first seven and a half minutes of the game, Liberty jumped out to a 17-7 lead over the Eagles.

The Flames’ defense held all Winthrop players other than Cooks scoreless for the first seven and a half minutes of the game. Liberty went on a 19-4 run over the course of seven minutes midway through the first half to take a 27-11 lead. Winthrop countered with an 8-0 run to cut Liberty’s lead to single digits (27-19) with just under five minutes left in the half.

Solid defense in the first half translated to offense for the Flames in the first half forcing eight turnovers, which resulted in 14 points. Liberty would go into halftime with a 37-26 lead over the Eagles after shooting 50 percent (14-28) from the floor. James and Cooks led all scorers with 15 points each while James grabbed four rebounds. The Flames did an exceptional job of sharing the ball in the first 20 minutes of action, handing out nine assists led by Pacheco-Ortiz and Lovell Cabbil with three assists each.

Liberty’s lead at half over Winthrop was the first for the Flames since Feb. 2, 2016 (Liberty won 88-77).

The Flames continued to attack on offense to open the second half, making five of their first six shot attempts. Anders Broman got hot from three-point range in the second half making 4-6 for a game-high 14 points in the half. Winthrop would get back into the game holding Liberty scoreless for nearly five minutes minutes to come within 10 points (58-48) with eight minutes left in the game.

As Winthrop continued to make mini runs to come within 10 points, Liberty sealed the win outscoring the Eagles 19-13 in the final eight minutes to hold off the Eagles. Coming up clutch for the Flames was Homesley scoring 11 points in the final four minutes of the game.

“We had to keep the intensity (in the 2nd half) and I was able to make big shots because my teammates got me open,” Homesley added. “When my teammates show confidence in me that just raises my level of confidence in myself.”

The Flames will have a quick turnaround as they hit the road for a game on Saturday. The Flames will make the hour trip to in-state opponent, Longwood. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. at Willett Hall.