Liberty Looks to Complete Regular Season Sweep of First-Place Winthrop

Cooks, Xavier
The play of Xavier Cooks is a big reason for Winthrop’s current six game winning streak. (Source: The Herald) (Header: Liberty Athletics)

LYNCHBURG, Va. — The Big South looks like a big mess through the first 10 games of conference play.

Coming into Thursday night’s action, three teams are tied atop the league standings at 7-3, while another two teams are just a game behind at 6-4. Overall, six of the teams in the 10-team league are at .500 or better in conference play, which means the second half of league play will be an exciting one.

Thursday night also marks the second meeting of the regular season between the Winthrop Eagles and Liberty Flames. A win for the Flames would help them take another step towards the top, while a win for the Eagles could leave them alone in first place when the night is all said and done.

As the contenders start to separate themselves from the pretenders down the stretch, each and every game is an important one. Thursday night’s tilt inside the Vines Center will tell us a lot about both the Flames and Eagles as Big South play continues to move towards the conference tournament.

Here’s what you need to know about Thursday’s Big South battle between Winthrop and Liberty.

Last Time Out

Things have gone rather well for Winthrop as of late. After a three game losing streak, the Eagles entered their last outing against the Campbell Fighting Camels on a five game winning streak. Thanks to a late run in the closing minutes, the Eagles held off Campbell for a 75-64 victory on their home floor.

The win pushed the Eagles’ win streak to six games, and moved them to 7-3 overall in Big South play.

Winthrop had four players post double-digit points in the win. Xavier Cooks led the way with 21 points, on 10-of-20 shooting, and nine rebounds. Bjorn Broman had 18 points and four assists, while Anders Broman had 12 points of his own.

Winthrop held the duo of Chris Clemons and Marcus Burk to a combined 26 points, on 9-of-27 shooting from the floor and 1-of-12 shooting from beyond the arc.


On the flip side, things weren’t going as well for the Flames in advance of their last outing. Prior to their contest with the Presbyterian Blue Hose, Liberty had lost their previous five games, and were trending in the wrong direction in the Big South standings. Thanks to a big game from Ryan Kemrite, the Flames ended their skid with an 81-66 victory on the road over the Blue Hose.

Liberty never trailed against Presbyterian, and withstood 37 points from Reggie Dillard in the win.

Kemrite’s 21 points were a team high, but a pair of freshmen for the Flames stole the show. Guard Keegan McDowell scored a career-best 19 points, while going 6-of-10 from the floor and 3-of-4 from three point range. Thanks in large part to his performance, McDowell was named the Big South Freshman of the Week on Monday. Elijah Cuffie added 12 points of his own, which was also a career high.


Previous Meeting

Thursday night marks the second of two regular season meetings between Winthrop and Liberty during the 2017-18 season. The pair met back on January 9th, 2018 in Rock Hill, SC. It was a back and forth affair, but the Flames managed to squeak out a 73-70 win over the Eagles, handing Winthrop their third straight loss at the time.

Lovell Cabbil had himself a strong night on both ends of the floor, posting a team-high 19 points to go along with five rebounds and five assists. Caleb Homesley added 13 points and three steals, while Isaiah Williams posted 10 points of his own off the bench in 15 minutes of action. Williams hit a pair of free throws in the final seconds to seal the deal for the Flames.

For the Eagles, Adam Pickett stuffed the stat sheet in the loss. He posted 21 points, seven rebounds, five assists, two steals, and three blocks, while shooting 6-of-7 from the floor. Cooks had 15 points and seven rebounds in just 23 minutes of action, while Josh Ferguson finished with 12 points and seven rebounds of his own.

The loss to Liberty was the last loss for Winthrop, as they started their current win streak following the defeat to the Flames.


Players to Watch

Winthrop

Xavier Cooks

– 16.9 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.6 bpg; 49.8% FG, 70.0% FT in 20 games.
– Cooks has three double-doubles over the Eagles’ six game winning streak (eight total in 2017-18).
– He has scored in double figures in 19 of his 20 games this season (posted six points on 12/16/17 vs. Alabama State).

Bjorn Broman

– 11.4 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.1 spg; 52.3% FG, 47.9% 3PT in 21 games.
– Broman has scored in double figures in nine of Winthrop’s 10 conference games, including a 29-point performance against Radford on 1/3/18.
– His brother, Anders Broman, is second on the Eagles with 12.4 ppg.


Liberty

Keegan McDowell

– 3.7 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 0.7 apg; 32.9% FG, 95.0% FT in 23 games.
– McDowell is one of nine Liberty players to have appeared in at least 20 games and average more than 13 minutes per game.
– Last time out against Winthrop, he was held without a point in six minutes of action.

Ryan Kemrite

– 10.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.1 apg; 42.7% FG, 42.7% 3PT in 22 games.
– Kemrite is one of four Flames averaging double digit points per game this season (he has reached double figures in each of his last three games).
– After not scoring more than eight points in a game from 12/30/17 – 1/12/18 (five games), he is averaging 13.6 ppg over his last five outings.


Prediction

Liberty knocked off Winthrop earlier this season on the Eagles’ home floor, so you can bet that they want to exact some revenge on the Flames in front of their home crowd on Thursday night.

The Flames have been trending in the wrong direction as of late, and while their offense has hit another gear over their last few outings, their usually solid defense let them down at the end of their losing streak. Liberty has scored over 80 points in each of their last two games, but they’ve allowed at least 66 points in each of their last four outings. On average, they allow 63.5 points per game this season, which is good for the 16th-best mark in the nation.

As for Winthrop, they’re firing on all cylinders. They come into Thursday night in a three-way tie for first place in the Big South Conference at 7-3, and have a chip on their shoulder after falling to the Flames earlier this season. They have a veteran group that’s one of the deepest teams in the conference, and they’ll be looking to push their winning streak to seven games on the road inside the Vines Center.

Liberty has the experience of a road win over Winthrop to fall back on come Thursday, but they need to be strong on defense to make it a regular season sweep. With the Eagles playing at such a high clip, it looks as though Winthrop will earn a split in the season series with a close win over Liberty on the road.

Winthrop – 73
Liberty – 68

– T. Bennett