LYNCHBURG, Va. — For the second straight day, the Liberty Flames played the first game of the Paradise Jam, as they hosted the Houston Cougars to kick off day two of the tournament at the Vines Center.
The Flames pushed Houston to its limit all throughout the game exchanging haymakers, but Houston would pull out the 68-66 win in the final seconds.
Throughout the second half, there were 10 lead changes and the score was tied eight different times. After Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz tied the game off a layup plus the foul converting the free-throw, the game was tied 66-66 with 11 seconds left. On Houston’s final possession, Rob Gray missed a jump shot but Corey Davis Jr. followed Gray’s shot with a put back to give the Cougars the win.
For the second straight game, Liberty held its opponent to a season-low in points, as Houston’s previous low was 80 points against the Drexel Dragons in their opener at the Paradise Jam.
The Flames had five players score in double-figures led by Pacheco-Ortiz with 16 points to go along with three rebounds and an assist. Liberty drops to 2-2 this season while Houston improves to 2-1.
The Flames got off to a good start, opening the game with a 10-5 lead. Sparking the run for Liberty was exceptional defense that led to a 7-0 run by the home team. Coming off the bench and providing some offense for the Flames was Myo Baxter-Bell, who scored a quick five points in his first two minutes of action. The Flames’ defense was able to hold the Cougars scoreless for 5:18, as they missed six straight field goals, thus allowing the Flames to jump out to a 12-6 lead.
Houston’s offense got back on track, making four of five field goals midway through the first half to stay within single digits of Liberty’s lead. With three minutes left in the first half, Houston took the lead (23-22) off a three-pointer by Wes Vanbeck. To end the half, Houston would go on a 14-4 run to go into halftime with a 27-24 lead over the Flames.
Liberty was able to capitalize on Houston’s turnovers in the first frame, scoring 10 points. On Houston’s side, Devin Davis led the way with a game-high 10 points in the first half to go along with five rebounds. Leading the way for the Flames in the first half was Scottie James, with eight points in addition to four rebounds.
Both teams went back-and-forth exchanging buckets early in the second half, as the game was tied at 42-all with 10:55 left in the game. Vanbeck continued to be effective for the Cougars in the second half, scoring seven of Houston’s first 16 points in the half. Pacheco-Ortiz scored all 16 of his points in the second half while Scottie James led Liberty with seven rebounds.
Both teams ended the game shooting 40.4 percent from the field but the Cougars out-rebounded the Flames 40-28.
Liberty will now play in Sunday’s noon game against the loser of Saturday’s match-up that sees the Quinnipiac Bobcats take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.
– T. Bennett