It was a wild ride to the end, but Liberty is your ASUN Champion in its inaugural year with the conference. The Flames went on the road to Lipscomb and came away with a 74-68 win to send them to their first NCAA Tournament since 2013.
As one would expect from two teams that are so evenly matched, most of the first half played out as such. With five minutes left to go in the first half, Lipscomb had built a bit of a cushion to the tune of a 28-20 lead. However, the Bisons would remain scoreless for the rest of the half. A 9-0 run for the Flames that was capped off with a layup by Lovell Cabill Jr. just before the buzzer gave the Flames a 29-28 lead at the break.
Neither team shot the ball particularly well in the opening 20. Lipscomb hit just 35 percent of their shots while Liberty connected on 43 percent. The two combined for an abysmal 3-of-20 showing from behind the arc.
The early goings of the second half featured little separation for either side as the lead seemingly changed every time down the court. At the under-12 media timeout, Liberty still held a one point lead at 46-45. Both sides started to find their mark from outside, but neither side could still build a gap of more than a few points as Liberty kept a 54-53 lead by the U8 timeout. By the under-4, Liberty was up 61-59.
A layup by Rob Marberry put Lipscomb up one with approximately 2:45 left to play, only to quickly give the lead back following a Scottie James layup, which he followed up with one of the most obnoxious flops I’ve ever seen making his way back down the court.
Lipscomb took the lead back on a pair of free throws from Garrison Mathews with 90 seconds left, and once again a James layup swung the lead back in Liberty’s favor with under a minute left. A broken play led to an open three for Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz to put Liberty up four with under 30 seconds to play. Naturally, Marberry cut it back to two with a layup with eight seconds to go. Liberty would go on to ice the game at the line, sealing a 74-68 win for the title in a game that featured 22 lead changes.
Lipscomb now awaits their fate as a pseudo-bubble team. Their resume has some merit, but it likely won’t be enough in the end to warrant a bid, especially with teams like Belmont ahead of them in the pecking order.
Liberty will enter the tournament as one of the more dangerous mid-majors, and will surely be a tough out for the team that draws them in the first round.