VCU holds off Liberty for 64-59 win

libertyThe VCU Rams held off a late Liberty charge for a 64-59 victory over the Flames, Tuesday evening inside the Vines Center.

Liberty cut its deficit to three several times down the stretch, the last coming with 22 seconds left. However, visiting VCU made its last four free throws to come away with the win.

Liberty falls to 1-1 on the year. VCU moves to 2-0.

The Flames shot 38.6 percent (17-of-44) from the field and 35.0 percent (7-of-20) from behind the three-point arc. Head Coach Ritchie McKay’s team finished 18-of-25 (72.0 percent) from the free throw line on the evening.

The Rams finished the contest shooting 46.8 percent (22-of-47) from the floor, including 50.0 percent (10-of-20) in the second half.  VCU hit 33.3 percent of its attempts from beyond the three-point arc (5-of-15). VCU was 15-of-23 (65.2 percent) from the free throw line.

The Rams edged out the Flames on the boards, 35-26, and outscored the Flames 34-16 in the paint.

Guard John Dawson led all scorers in the game with 14 points, including 3-of-4 from the three-point land. A.C. Reid added 11 points off the bench, including three treys. Three Liberty players, Dawson, Caleb Homesley and Lovell Cabbil, paced the Flames with four rebounds apiece.

JeQuan Lewis led VCU with 13 points. Mo Alie-Cox followed with 12 points for the Rams. Jordan Burgess pulled down a contest-high eight rebounds and added nine points.

After VCU took a 5-2 early lead on free throws by Lewis, Liberty reeled off an 11-2 run to take a 16-7 lead.  During the spurt, the Flames held the visiting the Rams to 1-of-8 shooting from the field and over the last 4:07 without a point.

Dawson began the Liberty run with a three-point shot at 17:52, knotting the score at 5-5. Back-to-back baskets by Homesley and Cabbil continued the burst and gave the Flames their first lead, 9-7, at 15:11. Reid capped the nine-point spurt with a trey from the corner for a 16-7 with 13:57 remaining.

Holding Liberty without a point over the next 4:58, VCU took back the lead with 11 unanswered points.

Guard Samir Doughty netted four of the Rams’ points during the span, capped by a layup by Doug Brooks to take an 18-16 advantage with 10:41 gone in the opening half.

Despite being held without a field goal over 6:05, Liberty used 9-of-12 shooting from the foul line to go back in front and maintain three to four point advantage. A lay-up by forward Josiah Talbert with 2:18 left snapped the Flames’ field goal drought and gave the home team a 30-26 edge.

VCU took a 34-31 lead into intermission, outscoring the Flames, 8-1, during the final 1:28. A three-pointer by Malik Crowfield with 32 ticks put the Rams back in front by one at 31-30. VCU closed the half with another three by Lewis as time ran out for the three-point edge at halftime.

Liberty shot 39.1 percent (9-of-23) from the field and 27.3 percent (3-of-11) from behind the arc in the first half. The Flames were 10-for-15 (66.7 percent) from the free throw line. Meanwhile, VCU shot 44.4 percent (12-of-27) from the field and was 33.3 percent (3-of-9). The Rams were 7-for-13 from the charity stripe. VCU held a slight, 19-16, rebounding edge.

Homesley led Liberty with seven points in the opening half. Dawson and Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz each had five apiece. Homesley and Pacheco-Ortiz each had three rebounds to pace the Flames.

Lewis paced all scorers in the first half with eight points. Forward Jordan Burgess added seven points and a first-half high five boards.

The Rams opened up a nine-point advantage during the first five minutes of the second half. Fueled by a 6-0 run over 2:53span, VCU took a 43-34 lead with 14:56 left to play. After a dunk by Liberty forward Myo Baxter-Bell moved the Flames to within three at 37-32 at 18:02, two lay-ups by Ahmed Hamdy-Mohamed and two made free throws propelled the Rams to their 43-34 lead.

Back-to-back treys by Reid allowed Liberty to close to within three with 11:35 remaining. Reid snapped a 2:35 span without a score for either team with a three-pointer from the right side of the court at 12:50 and after a Rams turnover, Pacheco-Ortiz found the junior sniper once again open for another make from downtown, cutting the visitors’ lead to 43-40.

After a VCU timeout, the Rams used an 11-2 burst to build a 12-point lead with 6:08 remaining.

Held without a field goal for over four minutes, guard Ryan Kemrite found Dawson for a wide open look from behind the arc. The redshirt senior drained the three-point opportunity, cutting the VCU advantage to 54-46 with five minutes left to play.

Holding Rams to 2-of-8 shooting down the stretch, Liberty closed to within three with 22 seconds remaining. Dawson stepped in front of a VCU pass in the lane and pushed it forward to Homesley, who found Kemrite for his third trey of the night to make it, 60-57 Rams.

After two free throws gave VCU a 62-57 edge, a dunk by Dawson with 11 seconds remaining once again moved the Flames within three at 62-59.

Forward Mo Alie-Cox then made two free throws to seal the 64-59 Rams’ victory.

Liberty next takes to the road for the first time on Saturday. The Flames will travel to Bloomington, Ind., for a contest against the No. 6/5 Indiana Hoosiers for their first game of the Indiana Classic. Tip-off inside Assembly Hall is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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