LYNCHBURG, Va. – 12 days is a long time to go without playing a game. Liberty coach Ritchie McKay even called the situation “not ideal” earlier in the week, while conceding that the break allowed some of his dinged-up players some time to heal.
Two of those players, Lovell Cabbil and Ryan Kemrite were unable to play in the Flames’ opening-round, 65-52, victory against North Carolina A&T, sidelined by injuries.
It’s pretty safe to say the time off helped them both.
Kemrite dropped 7-of-10 tries from three, while Cabbil nearly doubled his career-high in assists, as Liberty defeated Central Michigan, 84-71, in a CIT quarterfinal contest Saturday at the Vines Center.
“I think the key has been [that] our guys are healthy physically and they’re refreshed mentally, and I think that’s important,” said McKay after the game. “We’re in a Final Four now. We’ll be one of 14 teams still playing after tomorrow’s [NCAA] games.”
The first half served as a battle to control the tempo. Central Michigan (21-15) exhibited early much of the success it showed from the perimeter in its first two CIT games. Chippewas guard Josh Kozinski drained 4-of-6 tries from distance, guiding his team to a lead as large as nine. Liberty (22-14) continued to gradually adjust on defense, before finally closing the half on a 9-0 burst of its own to draw the game level at 39 at the interval. Flames forward Scottie James scored the first four points of the run on a dunk and two free throws, then hauled in an offensive rebound to extend the Flames’ final possession and set up the equalizing Elijah Cuffee three-pointer.
“It’s always key [to close strong] against a team like that — hey go on runs, [and] they’re gonna make a lot of shots – just to try to make it 0-0 going into the second half,” stated Kemrite. “We went in and we had an emphasis on what we do, which is defense. In the second half, we really tried to set the tone defensively, because we knew offensively it was gonna come for us, so we just had to focus on defense, and really make that a priority.”
The sides struggled to separate for the first seven minutes of the second stanza, with neither club able to pull further away than four points from the other. Kemrite then splashed triples over delayed closeouts on back-to-back possessions to spark what would eventually become a 16-3 run, leading a visibly perturbed Chippewas coach Keno Davis to request a stoppage.
Central Michigan responded well after the timeout, scoring six quick points and slicing the lead to nine on a Kozinski triple with 6:29 to play. That would be the last time the lead touched single digits, though, as the Flames’ defense clamped down on the high-powered Chippewas. Kozinski was clearly one of the points of focus, as the senior guard knocked down just two of his final eight shots after starting 4-for-5 from distance.
“I think they did a good job of not giving him any space,” said Davis. “They were willing to not play any help defense off of him, and just make sure that whoever was guarding him wasn’t worried about the ball, and just locating him, which has been good for us in the past, [as] other players have been able to finish at the rim and be able to get shots because of Josh being such a threat out there. This wasn’t one of the games where we were able to have other guys step up and make enough plays, though.”
Cabbil, to be sure, also played a huge role. The junior guard followed a somewhat quiet first half by assisting on the Flames’ first four second-half buckets, providing helpers on 10 of 18 second-half Liberty conversions. Liberty’s best defender also helped lock down a Central Michigan offense that came into the contest averaging 96 points per game in the CIT and had knocked down 34 threes in two tournament games.
“I think Cabbil’s ability to be able to not just be one side of the court – he wasn’t just the guy distributing, just the guy scoring, but brought great energy to the defensive side, as well,” said Davis. “I think, as a coach, that’s the kind of players you want to recruit and the kind of players you want to develop. Obviously, [he was] a guy that was able to impact it both ways.”
Cabbil finished with 13 assists, easily eclipsing his prior career high of seven, set the last time he played, in the Big South title game against Radford.
‘I was just trying to do a good job of finding our guys when they were open,” said Cabbil. “On nights that my shot’s not falling, we have other guys that can go out and score. Kemrite was hot and Scottie was finishing everything that I passed him, so I was just trying to find those guys and put them in position to be successful.”
Kozinski and forward David DiLeo shared the Chippewas’ scoring lead, contributing 19 apiece. Kozinski’s final basket gave him exactly 1,000 points for his Central Michigan career. Guard Shawn Roundtree added 12 for Central Michigan. CMU connected on just 10-of-32 tries from distance, after converting 17 each in prior CIT wins over Fort Wayne and Wofford. Only four of the visitors’ 15 second-half tries from distance found the net.
Kemrite paced four Flames in double figures, scoring 21 on 7-for-10 from distance. The graduate student’s success from the perimeter opened up the paint for the Flames (“I guess the white guy in the corner has been pretty good for my career,” Kemrite joked), with James pouring in 20 of his club’s 40 points in the paint. The redshirt sophomore finished one board shy of a double-double. Sophomore guard Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz tallied 14, with wing Caleb Homesley adding 11 in 24 productive minutes off the bench. Liberty knocked down 56.1 percent (32-for-57) of its tries, including a sizzling 18-for-29 (62.1 percent) in the closing stanza.
Liberty advances to the CIT semifinals, hosting UIC in a first-ever Flames-versus-Flames matchup. This is Liberty’s deepest run in any postseason tournament in the program’s history, eclipsing 1983’s trip to the NAIA quarterfinals and last year’s quarterfinal run in this same tourney. Wednesday’s game is slated for a 7:00 (Eastern) jump, and will be televised over CBS Sports Network.
LIBERTY 84, CENTRAL MICHIGAN 71
CENTRAL MICHIGAN (21-15): DiLeo 6-13 3-3 19, Williams 2-6 3-3 7, Meyer 2-6 2-2 6, Roundtree 6-9 0-4 12, Kozinski 6-13 1-1 19, Peppers 2-3 0-0 4, Redman 0-1 0-0 0, Nwoko 0-0 0-0 0, Smith 0-1 0-2 0, McKay 2-5 0-0 4, Beachler 0-1 0-0 0, McCarty 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-58 9-15 71.
LIBERTY (22-14): Kemrite 7-10 0-0 21, James 9-12 2-2 20, Cabbil 3-7 101 7, Cuffee 3-6 0-0 9, Pacheco-Ortiz 4-7 6-6 14, Baxter-Bell 1-4 0-0 2, Homesley 5-10 0-0 11, Williams 0-0 0-0 0, Hicks 0-0 0-0 0, Farquhar 0-0 0-0 0, McDowell 0-1 0-0 0, Talbert 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-47 16-20 55.
Halftime — Tied, 39-39. 3-Point Goals—Central Michigan 10-32 (DiLeo 4-11, Williams 0-1, Meyer 0-1, Roundtree 0-3, Kozinski 6-13, Redman 0-1, McKay 0-1, Beachler 0-1), Liberty 11-25 (Kemrite 7-10, Cabbil 0-2, Cuffee 3-5, Pacheco-Ortiz 0-2, Baxter-Bell 0-1, Homesley 1-4, McDowell 0-1). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Liberty 31 (James 9), Central Michigan 30 (Williams 6). Assists —Liberty 23 (Cabbil 13), Central Michigan 13 (Roundtree 8). Total Fouls — Liberty 11, Central Michigan 10. Technical — None. A — 476.
Points in the Paint —Liberty 40, Central Michigan 30. Points off Turnovers —Liberty 17, Central Michigan 5. Second-Chance Points — Liberty 7, Central Michigan 6. Fast Break Points — Liberty 12, Central Michigan 4. Bench Points — Liberty 13, Central Michigan 8.
CIT Schedule (all times Eastern)
FIRST & SECOND ROUND
MONDAY, March 12th – THE CLASSICS
Hugh Durham Classic – CBS Sports Network
Central Michigan 94, Fort Wayne 89
Lou Henson Classic – CBS Sports Network
Drake 80, Abilene Christian 73
Jim Phelan Classic – CBS Sports Network
Liberty 65, North Carolina A&T 52
Riley Wallace Classic – CBS Sports Network
San Diego 88, Hartford 72
WEDNESDAY MARCH 14
Eastern Michigan 83, Niagara 65
UIC 84, Saint Francis PA 61
UTSA 76, Lamar 69
THURSDAY MARCH 15
Coach John McLendon Classic
Austin Peay 80, UL Monroe 66
FRIDAY MARCH 16
Central Michigan 98, Wofford 94
SATURDAY MARCH 17
San Diego 67, Portland State 64
SUNDAY MARCH 18
Northern Colorado 81, Drake 72
MONDAY MARCH 19
Sam Houston State 69, Eastern Michigan 62
WEDNESDAY MARCH 21
UIC 83, Austin Peay 81
Northern Colorado 86, San Diego 75
THURSDAY MARCH 22
Sam Houston State 76, UTSA 69
SATURDAY MARCH 24
Liberty 84, Central Michigan 71
SEMIFINALS on CBS Sports Network
UIC (19-15) @ Liberty (22-14) 7:00 PM EST
Sam Houston State (21-14) @ Northern Colorado (24-12) 9:00 PM EST
7:00 PM EST on CBS Sports Network