NEW ORLEANS, La. — With the 2017 calendar year coming to an end, teams across the country are rounding out their non-conference schedules and looking towards 2018 and the start of conference play.
On Thursday, the Liberty Flames and the Fort Wayne Mastodons are two of four teams that will take to the hardwood in New Orleans as a part of the 2017 New Orleans Shootout. The Alabama State Hornets and the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs square off in the other match-up, with the winners and losers of each respective pairing on Thursday squaring off on Friday to cap off the event.
Both the Flames and the Mastodons come into Thursday on a hot streak, as Liberty has won three straight and Fort Wayne has two straight wins under their belts. They both sit at eight wins on the year, and are looking to put together a strong showing over the two days in New Orleans before breaking for Christmas.
Here’s what you need to know in advance of Thursday afternoon’s match-up between the Flames and Mastodons.
The Liberty Flames come to New Orleans riding a recent stretch of strong play that has the team off to its best start since 1999. Liberty is currently riding a three game winning streak, and have won six of their last seven games overall. Their win over the Quinnipiac Bobcats in their finale of the 2017 Paradise Jam kicked off their strong stretch of play, and their lone loss over that span came at the hands of the UNC Greensboro Spartans by a single point in triple overtime, 76-75.
On the defensive end is where the Flames have made their mark in 2017-18. Liberty currently ranks seventh in the country in terms of scoring defense, as they are holding their opponents to an average of 59.5 points per game this season. They have a +18.1 margin in terms of points this season, as they average 77.6 points per game on offense themselves. They have held nine of their opponents under 70 points this season, while not allowing a team to score more than 76 points (UNCG).
Junior guard Lovell Cabbil and sophomore forward Scottie James are leading the way for Ritchie McKay’s crew. James is the team’s top rebounder, averaging 8.5 rebounds per game to go along with 12.4 points. Against Kentucky Christian in the Flames’ last outing, James saw his streak of consecutive games with at least six rebounds snapped at nine. He has three double-doubles on his resume so far this season, and all were in consecutive games.
Liberty will have its hands full with a Fort Wayne team that is coming off another big win over an in-state rival, and have won back-to-back games themselves.
The Mastodons are coming off yet another win over the Indiana Hoosiers in their last outing. A big second half, sparked by strong shooting from both Kason Harrell and Bryson Scott, led Fort Wayne to the 20-point win over the Hoosiers inside Assembly Hall, 92-72. They also picked up a win over the Stetson Hatters prior to that, and have won five of their last seven games overall.
Against Indiana, Harrell and Scott combined for 54 points, while John Konchar added 16 points and seven rebounds in the win. Fort Wayne had four players total score in double figures, and their fifth-highest scorer had just three points. Against Liberty’s stingy defense, the Mastodons will need to see more of a balanced attack across the board in New Orleans.
Fort Wayne’s offense is operating at a clip of 83.5 points per game this season, which is good for 38th in the nation. They have topped the 80-point mark on seven occasions, and have topped 90 points in four of those games. Thursday’s showdown with Liberty will be an age-old battle of a strong offense against a strong defense.
One team has to break, but who will it be?
Players to Watch
Liberty – Lovell Cabbil
Guard Lovell Cabbil has taken a big step forwards in 2017-18, and is having himself a career year through 11 games. He’s averaging career-bests in points (13.4), rebounds (4.5), and assists (3.3) per game, while shooting above 90% from the free throw line. Cabbil has three double-digit scoring games over his past four outings, including a 21-point performance against Kentucky Christian in the Flames’ last contest. Liberty’s leading scorer will look to keep pace with the likes of Scott and Harrell on the back end for the Mastodons, while contributing on both ends of the court for the Flames like he’s done all season long. Cabbil has eight games with double-digit points this season, and has recorded four or more rebounds on eight occasions.
Fort Wayne – Kason Harrell
Last time out, Harrell poured in a career-high 28 points in the Mastodons’ road win over Indiana, 92-72. It marked his second 20+ point performance of the season. Harrell is one of three Mastodons to average double-digit points per game this season, as he is averaging a career-best 13.6 points per outing. Alongside Scott and Konchar, the Mastodons have a terrific trio, and any one of the three is capable of taking a lead role and shouldering the offense on any given night. Against a tough Liberty defense, Harrell will need to knock down his open looks at the basket, much like he did against the Hoosiers, going 6-of-11 from three point range.
Liberty is one of the top teams in the country in terms of scoring defense, and we all know what defense can do for you on the hardwood. Their effectiveness on that end of the floor will be the determining factor on Thursday afternoon.
As for Fort Wayne, they are coming off a huge road win over Indiana in their last outing, and will look to sustain that momentum in New Orleans. They will need to find a way to avoid a letdown performance, and guys like Scott, Konchar, and Harrell will need to find a way to crack Liberty’s defense and put points on the board.
It will be a close game from start to finish, but in the end, the Flames will come away with their fourth win in a row.
Liberty – 71
Fort Wayne – 64
– T. Bennett