RADFORD, Va. — The Big South Conference is shaping up to be an exciting race to the finish in 2017-18.
Entering Monday’s action, every team in the conference has at least one win and at least one loss. Three games separate the teams at 1-4 from the ones at 4-1. The level of parity in the league has fans excited for the rest of the season, and any one of a handful of teams could realistically win the conference title and punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
On Monday, the Liberty Flames and Radford Highlanders are set to do battle in a game that features two of the top contenders for the conference title. The Highlanders come into the day in a tie for first place, while the Flames are just a game behind and are nipping at their heels.
A win for either team would assert them as arguably the top threat in the conference through six games. Radford wants to hold down home court, while the Flames want to pick up a road win and make a statement. Both are coming off losses in their previous outings, so they would like to start new winning streaks with a win.
Here’s what you need to know in advance of Monday’s tilt between Liberty and Radford.
Last Time Out
In their last outing, Liberty looked as though they were about to move to 4-1 in conference with a win over the Longwood Lancers. However, the visiting Lancers had other ideas, and took full control of the game down the stretch. Longwood scored the final 14 points of the day, and escaped Lynchburg, VA with a 58-51 victory.
It was Longwood’s first win on the road at Liberty in school history.
The Flames had five players score at least seven points, but Lovell Cabbil was the only one to reach double figures on the day (10 points). Guards Isaiah Williams and Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz had nine points apiece, while forward Scottie James had eight points and six rebounds.
The loss snapped the three game winning streak for Liberty.
After a 4-0 start in Big South play, the Highlanders were riding high atop the conference standings. That was, until their last outing, where they saw their six game winning streak come to an end at the hands of the Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs. In another low-scoring affair, much like Liberty’s game with the Lancers, the Bulldogs held down their home court to move into a tie atop the conference with the Highlanders, 59-54.
Radford was down by 12 at the break, but fought back in the second half to make a game out of it.
All seven players who scored on the day for Radford had at least points. Ed Polite Jr. was the only player to reach double figures for the Highlanders, posting 15 points to go along with nine rebounds and three steals. Caleb Tanner had eight points and Travis Fields Jr. had seven points off the bench, while four players added six points apiece in the loss.
Gardner-Webb and Radford are now tied for first in the Big South Conference with 4-1 records.
During the 2016-17 season, the Highlanders and Flames met on three occasions. They met twice in the regular season, and then once more during the Big South Tournament. While Liberty would sweep the regular season series, Radford picked up a win in the post-season, where it mattered most.
In the quarterfinals of the Big South Men’s Championship, the Highlanders edged the Flames by four, 56-52. Radford came in as the six-seed, while the Flames occupied the third seed in the field. Polite Jr. led the way for the Highlanders, scoring 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting. Christian Bradford added 10 points, and all eight players who checked into the game scored at least two points for Radford.
For Liberty, Myo Baxter-Bell led all scorers on the day with 18 points. He added four rebounds and three steals, and was 8-of-14 from the field. Cabbil added 12 points, on 5-of-11 shooting, and five rebounds in the loss.
Players to Watch
Liberty – Lovell Cabbil
Junior guard Lovell Cabbil has taken on a leading role on offense for the Liberty Flames this season, and he’s been one of the more consistent players for the team through 18 games. Cabbil leads the team in scoring, averaging 12.4 points to go along with 4.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. All of those figures are career-high marks for the native of Arlington, TX, and he is also shooting a career-best 87.0% from the free throw line. Over the Flames’ last three games, Cabbil has reached double figures while recording at least five rebounds in each game. He has reached double figures on 12 occasions this season during his career year, and is always a threat to go for 20+ points each night out. Against Radford, look for Cabbil to be the focal point of the scoring attack once again on the back end for the Flames.
Radford – Ed Polite Jr.
Over his collegiate career, junior Ed Polite Jr. has developed into one of the Big South’s top forwards for the Radford Highlanders. He averaged 8.7 points and 7.4 rebounds per game as a freshman, and has continued to develop on both ends of the season into his junior season in 2017-18. This year, the 6’5” wing from Lanham, MD is averaging a career-high 13.9 points and 1.2 blocks per game, while also pulling down 8.2 rebounds and shooting 48.9% from the floor. From December 23rd through to January 6th, a span of four games, Polite Jr. recorded four straight games with at least 23 points. He had a pair of double-doubles over that stretch of games, a stretch that carried them into conference play. Against Liberty, Polite Jr. will look to put together another strong performance on both ends of the floor and lead the Highlanders to a key conference win over another top contender.
Both the Flames and Highlanders will come out on Monday night looking for a big bounce-back performance after seeing their winning streaks snapped in their last outing.
Liberty, a team many expected to win the conference this season, will look to get into a tie with Radford at 4-2 in conference play. It’s a stiff test that they will look to pass, all while gaining some payback after last year’s postseason loss.
On the flip side, Radford will look to pick up another big win and assert themselves as arguably the team to beat in the Big South Conference early. A win at home over Liberty could go a long way in determining Big South tournament placements when all is said and done.
Neither team allows more than 67 points per game, and Liberty’s scoring defense (60.4 ppg) ranks fourth in the country. Don’t expect Monday’s game to be a high-scoring affair by any means. It’s a split down the middle in terms of the prediction, so take your pick and roll with it.
Radford – 61
Liberty – 59
– T. Bennett