NEW ORLEANS, La. — Friday’s contest marks the end of non-conference play for both the Liberty Flames and Alabama State Hornets, and both are looking to cap things off with a win.
Both the Flames and Hornets lost their first games at the New Orleans Shootout on Thursday. Liberty fell to the Fort Wayne Mastodons, 75-74, while Alabama State failed to pick up their first win of the season against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, 74-62. With Friday being the last opportunity for both schools to build some momentum before the grind of conference play begins, you can bet both will look to come out of the gate strong.
Liberty and Alabama State square off at 1:00pm EST, with the Mastodons and Bulldogs set to square off shortly after the completion of the first game. The games are being played at the Xavier Convocation Center, which is home to the Xavier University of Louisiana Gold Rush (men) and Gold Nuggets (women).
Here’s what you need to know about both teams in advance of the opening tip.
Liberty (8-4, 0-0) saw their three game winning streak come to an end at the hands of the Mastodons, who led from the start and didn’t allow the Flames to take a lead of their own. It was also just the fourth time in 12 games that the Flames have allowed a team to top 70 points.
The Mastodons’ 75 points are the most that Liberty has given up this season in a regulation game. In their triple-overtime loss to the UNC Greensboro Spartans, the Flames gave up 76 points.
Against Fort Wayne, the Flames had four players score in double-figures. A trio of players – Scottie James, Lovell Cabbil, Ryan Kemrite – had 15 points apiece, while Caleb Homesley added 14 points in his first start of the season. One issue from the game, besides the slow start, was the lack of production from the bench. In a combined 43 minutes, spread out over five players, the bench contributed a total of three points. Liberty will need to see more from their reserves moving forward, especially in conference play.
Despite the loss, Liberty’s scoring defense is still among the country’s best. Pair that up against an Alabama State team that struggles to score, and that will undoubtedly work in the favour of the Flames.
Alabama State comes into Friday afternoon as one of six teams across the country who are still looking for their first win of the season. Five of those teams are from the SWAC. In the preseason, the Hornets were projected to finish sixth in the conference regular season standings, up two spots from last year’s eighth place finish.
Leading the way for the Hornets is the duo of Reginald Gee and Rodney Simeon. Gee is the team’s top scorer, averaging 13.4 points per game through 11 contests as a sophomore. He posted a team-best 16 points against Louisiana Tech, and now has back-to-back double-digit scoring games under his belt. Simeon, a 6’5” senior, came off the bench to record 14 points and three rebounds against the Bulldogs.
Simeon was named to the preseason All-SWAC Second Team in advance of the 2017-18 season, but he missed the first eight games of the season. In three games of action since, he is averaging 8.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. As he gets more games under his belt, look for Simeon to regain the form he had last season, where he led the Hornets in scoring with 12.2 points per game.
Players to Watch
Liberty – Scottie James
One game after having his streak of nine consecutive games with sex rebounds snapped, James was back to his old ways on Thursday against the Mastodons, recording 15 points and 12 rebounds in the 11-point loss for the Flames. Over the course of the season, James has arguably been the Flames’ most consistent player. He has eight double-digit scoring games over the last nine outings, and has put together four double-doubles during that stretch. Against an Alabama State team that doesn’t have a player averaging more than 5.6 rebounds per contest, James and the rest of the Liberty forwards have a clear edge on the glass come Friday afternoon.
Alabama State – Reginald Gee
While he may only be a sophomore, 6’3” guard Reginald Gee has emerged as one of the premier players in the SWAC. He’s the Hornets’ leading scorer this season, averaging 13.4 points per game. Gee is one of just two players averaging double-digit points per game this season for Alabama State. Against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs to open the New Orleans Shootout on Thursday, Gee posted 16 points and four assists to pace the attack for the Hornets. Alabama State enters Friday in search of their first win, and they will be up against a Liberty team that doesn’t allow many teams to score about 70 points. Gee will need to have a big game, and get support from his teammates, if the Hornets want to notch win number one in the Big Easy.
Alabama State struggles to score on offense, as they have scored more than 70 points just twice this season, As Simeon gets more games under his belt, he will surely elevate the offense. However, against a Liberty team that’s known for its defense, it may be another game before the Hornets pick up that elusive first win.
The starting five for Liberty was clicking on Thursday against Fort Wayne, but they weren’t able to overcome a sluggish start. Don’t expect Ritchie McKay’s crew to start slow on a second straight occasion. The Flames will come out of the gate strong and look to put separation between themselves and the Hornets. What will be a close game at half will balloon into a 20+ point win for the Flames when the final buzzer sounds.
Liberty – 76
Alabama State – 54
– T. Bennett