Guard Justin Moore (right leg soreness) and freshman forward Cam Whitmore (eye) were with the team but not in uniform.

By Harry Allison

Liberty got 26 points from Darius McGhee to outlast visiting Villanova 62-57 in an opening round game in the National Invitation Tournament.

The Flames used a 7-0 spurt near the end of the first half to claim the advantage. The Wildcats made a series of runs in the second half, closing to within three points in the final minutes, but never were able to regain the upper hand.

Brandon Slater led the Wildcats (17-17 overall, 10-10 BIG EAST) with 18 points.

McGhee opened the scoring with a 3-pointer but Villanova’s defense held the Flames without a point for the next 3:28. That allowed the ‘Cats to grab a 5-3 lead at the first official timeout of the evening.

The Wildcats ran into their own scoring drought, though, falling behind 8-5, before baskets by Caleb Daniels and Eric Dixon gave them the lead back at 9-8 after 8:02 of the first half had been played.

Three straight made field goals gave Liberty a 17-13 edge but the Wildcats answered with jumpers from Jordan Longino and Slater to knot matters at 17 with 7:44 on the first half clock.

The Flames turned defense into points, grabbing a 27-23 advantage on the strength of McGhee’s creativity. To that point, he was responsible for nine points and two assists. Meanwhile, Dixon was carrying the scoring load for Nova with nine points of his own.

When McGhee drained a deep 3-pointer from the right wing, the lead grew to 30-23. The halftime count was 32-25.

“He’s dynamic,” Neptune said. “He forces you to play so far outside the scoring area. He can make some difficult, difficult shots even if you play good defense. Once you get out on him, the other guys can get it going as well. They’re a really challenging team to defend.”

The Wildcats’ did a good job defensively for the most part in the period, limiting Liberty to 12-of-30 from the field (.400). But Villanova was just 10-of-32 itself over the first 20 minutes (.313).

Villanova closed to within 35-30 on a Mark Armstrong drive but Liberty had an answer, as McGhee dropped in another long triple to extend the margin to eight, 38-30 four minutes into the second half.

The lead was at 48-40 when Brendan Hausen knocked down a corner 3-pointer to narrow the gap to 48-43 as the second half clock dipped below the 10 minute mark. Villanova kept battling but Liberty found ways to score to keep its lead intact. When it pulled to within 50-45, McGhee came up with another long 3-pointer to push the margin to 53-45.

When Armstrong finished an acrobatic drive, the ‘Cats deficit was 53-50. But Liberty came up with another triple from McGhee to double the lead to 56-50 with 2:44 to play. An Armstrong steal and slam made it 56-52, but Liberty got a pair of free throws from Colin Porter to make it 58-52 with 1:20 left.

In his first starting assignment since early in the season, Armstrong made a major impact, finishing with 12 points.

“Mark is dynamic,” noted Neptune. “He did a great job of getting to the rim and I thought he did a good job of sharing the ball to get us into offense. He’s going to be a special player.”

A Slater 3-pointer pulled Villanova to within 61-57 with 22.5 seconds left but a long Hausen 3-point attempt went off the back iron. Liberty held off the Wildcats the rest of the way to advance to a second round matchup with the winner of tonight’s Bradley at Wisconsin NIT clash.

About admin

Loading Facebook Comments ...

Leave a Reply