LYNCHBURG, Va. – It’s rare that anyone uses a whistle sound for an alarm clock. For Liberty on Monday, that one sound provided the wake-up call the Flames needed.
A flagrant-two call against Jacksonville’s David Bell seemed to roust Liberty from its slumber. The Flames turned a two-point lead into a 15-point halftime margin after the call, getting three scorers in double figures to put away Jacksonville, 72-58, in ASUN first-round tournament action in Lynchburg Monday night.
Liberty (26-6) started the game on an 11-2 run, and appeared to wrest control early. Jacksonville (12-20) responded with an 11-4 burst of its own, turning a 1-for-11 Liberty stretch into a two-point game.
The Flames’ awakening happened with five-and-a-half minutes to play in the half.
Ahmanee Santos hauled in a rebound of a Caleb Homesley miss from distance, and as the teams started toward the opposite end of the court, Liberty’s Scottie James crashed to the floor. Bell was whistled for a common foul for a grab of the shoulder, and after a review of the play, a flagrant-two was assessed and Bell ejected.
Liberty cashed in the two free throws for the foul, then got back-to-back threes from Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz and Darius McGhee to cap an 8-0 run in a 38-second span. The Flames closed the half on a 19-6 run, taking a 34-19 advantage to the interval. Liberty held Jacksonville to 6-for-21 from the field (29 percent), while holding the Dolphins without a three-point make in seven tries.
“Big stretch,” said Jacksonville coach Tony Jasick. “Big stretch emotionally, and I thought that was kind of a key to the first half for them.”
“I think it definitely affected us,” said forward Jace Hogan. “Dave’s a big part of what we do, a big shot-blocker and big presence down low. He brings a lot to the table that I don’t bring, and some different post players don’t bring. Obviously, that shortened the rotation a bit.”
“That (play and ensuing run) kind of deflated us a bit,” Hogan added.
Jacksonville Postgame Press Conference (Coach Tony Jasick, Jace Hogan, Ahmanee Santos):
“(I was) just trying to see if they were going to blow the whistle, and if not, I was going to try to get up and get on,” James said of the play. “I don’t think he did it on purpose. He’s not a dirty player. He’s a great kid.”
Liberty expanded its lead to 20 on a Myo Baxter-Bell conversion in the paint six minutes into the second half, then maintained its advantage in that vicinity until nearly the 10-minute mark. Jacksonville put together a string of eight consecutive possessions with buckets, but drew no closer than nine, despite that run. The Flames converted 13-of-21 tries (62 percent) in the period, enabling the home side to stave off the hot-shooting visitors.
“In the second half, we hit a little lapse in defense, I think, so we’ve gotta clean that up and work towards that for next game,” said James. “We know teams are capable of coming back, so we’ve just gotta keep fighting.”
“Our group is mature. We’ve played in some games that count, and I felt like we did a good job, especially when they made runs, of weathering the storm and getting back in our lane,” said Liberty coach Ritchie McKay.
Liberty Postgame Press Conference (Coach Ritchie McKay, Scottie James, Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz):
“I thought the game could have (gone) one of two ways there midway through the second half, and I thought we did a good job of at least making it a game,” said Jasick. “We cut it to nine a couple of times, and just couldn’t get enough stops to really get that thing down to five or six, and see what happens.” The Dolphins connected on 16-of-30 (53 percent) of their second-half tries.
Hogan and Santos paced Jacksonville with 13 points apiece. Guard DeAnthony McCallum added 11. The Flames limited second-team All-ASUN player JD Notae to four points on 2-for-12 shooting from the field. Notae went 0-for-7 from three, affected largely by the defense of Flames guard Lovell Cabbil.
“I’ve said it all along that Lovell’s a great two-way player, (and) one of the best in the region,” said McKay. “Defensively, he takes on any challenge we give him. He’s a very, very integral part of the building of our program and the growth that we’ve experienced.”
Pacheco-Ortiz led Liberty on the offensive end of the floor, finishing with 16, just off his season-high of 18 against South Carolina State and NJIT. Pacheco-Ortiz connected on 5-of-9 from the field, converting 3-of-4 from distance. James added 15 points and five caroms, while Cabbil added 11 to his stellar defensive effort.
Liberty advances to the ASUN semifinals Thursday, where it will host a game slated for a 7:00 (Eastern) tip. The Flames will welcome North Florida to the Vines Center. The third-seeded Ospreys dropped a 70-64 decision in Lynchburg Jan. 19, but returned the favor with a 75-70 result in Jacksonville Feb. 23. The winner of that contest will advance to face the winner of the NJIT-Jacksonville semifinal Sunday, with the host school to be determined by Thursday’s semifinal action.
Jacksonville finishes its campaign with a 12-20 record.
LIBERTY 72, JACKSONVILLE 58
JACKSONVILLE (12-20): Hogan 5-11 3-4 13, Bell 0-1 0-0 0, Notae 2-12 0-2 4, McCallum 3-8 4-5 11, Santos 5-7 0-0 13, Hinton 1-1 0-1 2, Workman 3-3 2-2 8, Flowers 1-3 0-0 2, Rubio 0-2 0-0 0, Romich 2-3 0-0 5, Fitzgerald 0-0 0-0 0, Forrest 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-51 9-14 58.
LIBERTY (26-6): James 4-7 7-8 15, Homesley 4-9 0-2 9, Cabbil 3-3 4-4 11, Cuffee 2-8 2-2 6, Pacheco-Ortiz 5-9 3-3 16, McGhee 1-5 0-0 3, Baxter-Bell 3-3 2-2 8, Gumbs 2-2 0-0 4, McDowell 0-0 0-0 0, Farquhar 0-0 0-0 0, Newton 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-46 18-21 72.
Halftime — Liberty 34-19. 3-Point Goals—Jacksonville 5-21 (Hogan 0-1, Notae 0-7, McCallum 1-3, Santos 3-5, Flowers 0-2, Rubio 0-1, Romich 1-2), Liberty 6-19 (James 0-1, Homesley 1-5, Cabbil 1-1, Cuffee 0-4, Pacheco-Ortiz 3-4, McGhee 1-4). Fouled Out — Notae (JU). Rebounds — Liberty 29 (Homesley 7), Jacksonville 28 (Hogan/Notae 6). Assists —Liberty 12 (Homesley 5), Jacksonville 10 (Santos 3). Total Fouls — Jacksonville 18, Liberty 14. Technical — NA. A — 1738.
Points in the Paint —Liberty 34, Jacksonville 30. Points off Turnovers —Jacksonville 14, Liberty 7. Second-Chance Points — Jacksonville 11, Liberty 6. Fast Break Points — Jacksonville 8, Liberty 0. Bench Points — Jacksonville 17, Liberty 15.