LYNCHBURG, Va. — Sometimes, all you need is a change of scenery to get back on the right track. Or, in the case of the Liberty Flames, a new year.
As 2017 came to a close, the Flames lost two of their final three games to somewhat limp into the New Year. They opened conference play with a three-point loss on home, but were still sitting at 9-5 on the season.
On Tuesday, they welcomed the Charleston Southern Buccaneers to town in the Flames’ Big South home opener. The 2017-18 edition of the Liberty Flames were looking to become the second-fastest team in school history to reach 10 wins, and what better way to kick off the 2018 calendar year than with a win.
Thanks to sophomore guard Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz, who was on fire on Tuesday night, the Flames pulled away from the Buccaneers in the second half for the 70-53 win, picking up their 10th win of the season in the process.
Pacheco-Ortiz hit seven three-pointers on Tuesday night, which is tied for the second most in school history. He finished the night with 27 points, three assists, and two rebounds. He was 7-of-8 from three point range, and 6-of-8 from the free throw line.
Ryan Kemrite finished the night with six points, leaving him just two points shy of the 1,000-point mark for his career. Scottie James continued his strong play on both ends of the floor this season, recording 14 points and 15 rebounds, while dishing out four assists in the win.
Twelve of James’ 15 rebounds came on the defensive end of the floor.
For the Buccaneers, the duo of Christian Keeling and Travis McConico scored 10 points apiece in the loss. McConico added five steals and four rebounds, while Keeling racked up four assists and two rebounds.
Jamaal David scored a team-high 11 points to go along with four assists on the night.
Kemrite hit a three pointer on the possession to draw first blood for the Flames, and it signaled the beginning of a back-and-forth first half. The Flames and Buccaneers would trade leads on several occasions over the first 10-plus minutes of the game, before Liberty would take over as the break approached.
With 8:13 to play in the half, Pacheco-Ortiz hit one of his career-high seven triples on the night to get the Flames back to within a point, at 21-20. James followed that up with a layup almost two minutes later, and Liberty took the lead for good.
The Flames took a 30-25 lead into the half, and came out in the second half looking to put separation between themselves and Charleston Southern.
Much like the first half, the teams would trade baskets as the Buccaneers tried to keep the game close. McConico hit a three point jumper of his own with 13:28 to play that cut the deficit down to one, at 38-37. That was as close as the Buccaneers would get, as Caleb Homesley responded with six straight points to pull Liberty ahead yet again.
The six points from Homesley kicked off an 11-0 run for the Flames, in which he accounted for eight total points. With 9:13 to play, Homesley capped off the run with a dunk, putting Liberty ahead by 12 points.
From there, the Flames would cruise to the 17-point victory, 70-53.
The win gave Liberty (10-5, 1-1) their 10th win of the season, making this year’s team the second fastest team in school history to reach 10 wins. The fastest team to reach the mark was back in 2008-09, when they recorded their 10th win on December 28th. Liberty will go for their second straight win on Saturday afternoon when they host the Presbyterian Blue Hose.
With the loss, Charleston Southern (6-7, 1-1) has their two game winning snapped. The Buccaneers will look to start a new streak on Saturday evening when they visit the High Point Panthers.
– T. Bennett