LYNCHBURG, Va. — It’s hard to believe that the 2017-18 season tipped off a week ago already.
A lot has happened over the course of the week. From a few upsets, to an exciting Champions Classic, fans have been treated to some exciting basketball over the first seven days of the season.
On Friday, the 2017 Paradise Jam tipped off in Lynchburg, VA, and the host Liberty Flames took on the Mercer Bears to kick off the event. The contest featured two teams who many expect to contend in their respective conferences this season, and it’s one of the top match-ups that the event could produce.
Mercer came out of the gate strong, scoring eight of the first 11 points, holding Liberty to three points over the first five-plus minutes in the process. After the Flames took a brief two-point lead before the midway point of the frame, the Bears retook the lead and never looked back.
Jordan Strawberry scored the final six points of the game over the final 3:04, and Mercer pulled away for the 63-48 victory over the host Flames to kick off the 2017 Paradise Jam.
Strawberry finished just shy of a triple-double on the afternoon, recording nine points, 13 rebounds, and seven assists in the win. Fellow senior Ria’n Holland led all Mercer scorers with 13 points to go along with five rebounds and five assists.
Lovell Cabbil led all scorers on the day with 15 points for the Flames, while adding in four rebounds and four assists in the loss.
After Mercer opened the game on a mini 8-3 run, a three pointer from Cabbil and a three-point play from Scottie James gave the Flames their first of two leads on the day, at 9-8. Another three pointer just over a minute later, this one from Elijah Cuffie, gave the Flames a 12-10 lead.
That was the last lead that Liberty would hold on the day.
The Bears answered with a jumper from Marcus Cohen to tie the game at 12-all, then Holland capitalized on a turnover by James and got a layup to drop that put Mercer ahead for good.
Mercer extended their lead to as many as eight points in the first half, but a pair of free throws from Keegan McDowell brought the Flames to within three points before the break.
In the second frame, Mercer came out looking to put the game away. They scored the first six points of the half, pushing their lead back to nine, but the Flames wouldn’t roll over and concede the contest. They managed to keep the deficit to within single digits for the first portion of the half.
Then, the Bears went on a run to break the game open.
Holland hit a three with 9:35 to play in the game that kicked off an 11-0 run for the Bears that spanned a little over two minutes. When all was said and done, Mercer held a 13-point lead, at 54-41. Liberty managed to cut the deficit down to eight points, but that was as close as they would get the rest of the way.
Strawberry scored the final six points of the game, and the Flames didn’t put up any points over the final 3:27 to seal the deal for Mercer.
The Bears opened the 2017 Paradise Jam with a 63-48 win over the host Liberty Flames.
With the win, Mercer (3-1) extends their winning streak to a modest three games, and they move onto the Championship half of the bracket in the process. They will square off with the winner of the event’s second game that features the Drexel Dragons and the Houston Cougars.
The loss was the first of the season for Liberty (2-1), who will move to the Consolation Bracket of the Paradise Jam. They will face the loser from the Drexel – Houston game on Saturday.
– T. Bennett