ROCK HILL, S.C. – Liberty took the court Tuesday night at Winthrop knowing it had not won in Rock Hill since 2004. When the Flames’ second bucket of the game came with nearly eight minutes having elapsed, it would have been easy for the visitors to watch that streak continue. Lovell Cabbil and his Liberty teammates weren’t about to let that happen, though.
Cabbil scored 19, leading four double-digit Liberty scorers in a 73-70 victory before a reported crowd of 1,085 at Winthrop Coliseum.
“In the beginning of the game, they came right out and smacked us in the mouth,” said Cabbil after the game. “We weren’t ready for it, and we were staggering, but we just had belief. In our huddles, we were just saying one play at a time, one play at a time, and we would get back into the game.”
Winthrop (7-8, 1-3 Big South) raced out of the blocks, jumping to a 14-2 lead on the Flames in the first six minutes of the contest. That aforementioned second bucket, a Cabbil jumper from the left side of the lane, sparked a 15-3 Liberty run, drawing the game level at 17. Back-to-back threes from Anders and Bjorn Broman created some much-needed separation, pushing the Winthrop advantage back to seven.
Liberty (12-5, 3-1) pulled to within four at the interval, largely on the strength of three Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz free throws after drawing a foul on a try from distance just before the horn. The Flames connected on just 9-of-29 first-half tries (31 percent), committing 14 fouls. Six Flames went to the break with two fouls or greater. Winthrop could not haul in an offensive rebound against the Flames’ eight, however, creating extra possessions for Liberty.
Cabbil and Isaiah Williams drained consecutive treys to start the second half, giving the Flames a two-point lead. Winthrop wrested back the advantage, with the Flames knocking down three more consecutive tries from distance. That nine-point swing moved Liberty from down four to up five, with a Xavier Cooks layup the only interruption in a 14-2 Flames swing. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey signaled for a stoppage, which led to a 12-0 Eagle run, punctuated by a thunderous dunk from forward Josh Ferguson. The Eagles maintained their lead for much of the final ten minutes of the game, but were unable to extinguish the persistent Flames. Liberty came back to tie the game at 61 at the 4:42 mark, following back-to-back buckets from forward Scottie James. James, like many of the Flames, battled flu-like symptoms for much of the evening, but turned in those two key late buckets.
“(Those baskets were) huge. The fact that he was on the court was huge,” said Liberty coach Ritchie McKay of his redshirt sophomore forward. “I think it inspired all of our guys. To be able to score […] I was trying my best to rest him. Fortunately, he was in foul trouble (James had four fouls for much of the second half), so my hand was forced a little bit.”
Following the back-to-back James conversions, an Ezra Talbert make again evened the proceedings at 63. Winthrop took the lead on a Ferguson basket, and the next trip down the floor swung momentum or had next to no impact, depending on with whom one spoke after the game.
James attempted a shot and crashed to the floor. After no whistle came, McKay, who had been battling back and forth with the officials the entire evening and earlier drawn a bench warning, was assessed a technical for his critique.
“I’m mad at myself for getting a T. I deserved it,” said McKay. “I was just trying to fight for our guys. I simply thought that, in a game that [was] that physical, I felt like, man, we had a couple of tough ones there.” Cabbil added, “We just tried to let everyone know we had to go take the game. They weren’t going to give it to us. We had to take it, and Winthrop was playing [well] at the time.”
Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey offered a slightly different account.
“He got a technical, and our kid (Anders Broman) went to the line and made two free throws and we got the ball out of bounds,” said Kelsey.
Those free throws and a Bjorn Broman three on that next possession stretched the Winthrop lead to seven with 2:56 to play. The Eagles would not score again, though, with the Flames closing on a 10-0 run that started with six straight points from Pacheco-Ortiz. A Cabbil three-point try on the Flames’ penultimate possession missed the mark, but Williams hauled in the final of his team’s 14 offensive rebounds, then drew a foul on Anders Broman. Williams calmly strode to the line and stuck both free throws, giving his side a one-point lead.
“In high school, I can remember we [were] playing Dayton Dunbar, and it came down to me to hit the game-winning free throws, and I missed them. I could just remember that taste,” said Williams. “When I got to the free throw line, I just knew that God’s got me. I’ve been here before, and I can’t miss these. I just calmed down, trusted God, and they went down.”
An Adam Pickett try on Winthrop’s final trip would not fall, and Ryan Kemrite knocked down two free throws with under a second remaining, providing the final margin.
“I give a lot of credit to Liberty. It was a hard-fought game, but they made a couple more plays down the stretch,” said Kelsey. “(They) got big stops when they needed, made big shots, got a big offensive rebound and stuck big free throws. I was proud of our guys’ effort. I thought they competed, I thought they played hard. We just came up a little short at the end.”
McKay, for his part, seemed relieved after the hard-fought contest.
“We actually, I thought, found a way against a really, really good team in a place that’s hard to win, and I think that’s a great step for us,” said McKay.
Cabbil’s 19 paced Liberty with forward Caleb Homesley adding 13. Pacheco-Ortiz scored 11, with Williams tallying 10. Liberty shot 45.2 percent (14-for-31) in the second stanza, finishing at 38.3 percent (23-for-60) for the game. Eight of Liberty’s 14 second-half connections came from beyond the arc.
Adam Pickett scored his second career-high in four Big South contests this season, leading all scorers with 21 points on 6-for-7 shooting. Forward Xavier Cooks scored 15, despite playing just 23 minutes due to early foul trouble. Bjorn Broman scored 14, with Ferguson scoring 12.
Both teams return to conference play Friday night. Winthrop visits Charleston Southern, with that game scheduled to begin at 7:30. Liberty will host rival Longwood. That game is slated to tip at 7:00.
LIBERTY 73, WINTHROP 70
LIBERTY (12-5, 3-1 BIG SOUTH): Homesley 5-7 1-1 13, Cabbil 7-14 0-1 19, Kemrite 2-7 2-2 8, Pacheco-Ortiz 3-10 4-4 11, James 2-6 0-0 4, Baxter-Bell 0-3 4-4 4, Cuffee 0-3 0-0 0, Williams 3-6 3-4 10, McDowell 0-0 0-0 0, Talbert 1-4 2-2 4. Totals 23-60 16-18 73.
WINTHROP (7-8, 1-3): A. Broman 1-6 2-2 5, Cooks 4-9 7-11 15, B. Broman 4-9 2-2 14, Pickett 6-7 8-9 21, Ferguson 6-9 0-0 12, Pupavac 0-0 0-0 0, Hill 0-1 0-0 0, Falden 0-0 0-0 0, Ukaegbu 0-0 0-0 0, Zunic 1-3 0-0 3, Awad 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-45 19-24 70.
Halftime — Winthrop 33-29. 3-Point Goals—Liberty 8-17 (Homesley 2-4, Cabbil 5-9, Kemrite 2-4, Pacheco-Ortiz 1-4, James 0-1, Cuffee 0-3, Williams 1-2, Talbert 0-3), Winthrop 7-19 (A. Broman 1-5, Cooks 0-1, B. Broman 4-8, Pickett 1-1, Hill 0-1, Zunic 1-2, Awad 0-1). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Liberty 38 (Kemrite/James 6), Winthrop 27 (Cooks/Pickett/Ferguson 7). Assists — Winthrop 11 (Pickett 5), Liberty 7 (Cabbil 5). Total Fouls — Liberty 24, Winthrop 18. Technical — McKay (LU). A — 1085.
Points in the Paint —Winthrop 28, Liberty 14. Points off Turnovers —Liberty 15, Winthrop 12. Second-Chance Points — Liberty 13, Winthrop 3. Fast Break Points — Winthrop 2, Liberty 0. Bench Points — Liberty 18, Winthrop 3.