Liberty snapped a 13-game losing streak in Rock Hill Tuesday night, handing Winthrop its third straight Big South loss in painful fashion.
Winthrop led 70-69 with 42 seconds left and the ball, but came up empty on its offensive possession. The Eagles forced Liberty’s Lovell Cabbil into a difficult 3-point attempt that he missed but Isaiah Williams dug up the rebound and was fouled. He made a pair of free throws to put the Flames ahead with 8.9 seconds left.
Winthrop’s ensuing possession was a mess and Liberty rebounded a shot that caromed off the side of the backboard. Two more Flames free throws stretched the lead to 73-70 with less than a second left, but the Eagles got one last beautiful look, Anders Broman launching a pass to his brother, Bjorn, on the right sideline, only for the 3 to rim out.
“They made the plays. Got a big offensive rebound and stuck big free throws, so...” said Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey.
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Adam Pickett had another big game for Winthrop (7-8, 1-3 Big South), leading all scorers with 21. Led by Cabbil’s 19 points, Liberty (12-5, 3-1) fought off serious foul trouble to get the big road win.
Winthrop last lost to the Flames in 2004, but Tuesday night’s game got off to a negative start. An innocuous one-sentence press release greeted the media with news that junior guard Nych Smith is academically ineligible for the second semester.
But Pickett was a catalyst for Winthrop’s dragster start. He ripped the ball from Lovell Cabbil, scoring at the other end, before dipping his shoulder under a defender and scooping two points up and in. Xavier Cooks’ bucket off a Liberty miss -- the Eagles beat the Flames down the court -- prompted a timeout from Liberty coach Ritchie McKay with his team trailing 14-2.
Liberty made just two of its first 10 field goal attempts but finally got going with a 15-2 burst that evened the score at 17. Cabbil hit a pair of rainbow 3’s and Williams exploited the Eagles’ lack of depth in the paint to score a couple of close-range buckets during the run.
Winthrop endured a nearly 5-minute stretch without a field goal but managed to stay in front by piling fouls on the visitors. Then the Broman brothers got loose for three 3-pointers in just over a minute to grow the lead to seven. Liberty shot just 31 percent from the floor, dealt with considerable foul trouble and probably felt positive about trailing by just four at the break, 33-29.
Liberty grabbed its first lead of the game with about 17 minutes left, Williams canning a 3 from in front of his team’s bench for a 35-33 Flames advantage, before Bjorn Broman put Winthrop back in front with a 3.
The 14-2 Liberty run that followed gave the Flames a 49-41 advantage. Caleb Homesley hit a pair of 3’s, Cabbil bombed in a triple off the dribble and Ryan Kemrite stroked in another 3 off an inbounds play to force a Winthrop timeout with 13 minutes left in the game. But, typical of a runny game, Winthrop ripped off 12 unanswered to get back in front and it was tight the rest of the way.
Liberty overcome a late technical on McKay that could have hurt much more than it did. The ensuing technical free throws put Winthrop up 70-63 with about 3 minutes left, but the Flames made one last push to close the game with 10 straight points.
“I’m mad at myself for getting a T, just fighting for my guys,” said McKay.
After Williams’ late free throws put Liberty up 71-70 with 8.9 seconds left. Winthrop rolled the ball inbounds to Pickett, but after he got over midcourt he ran into trouble, nearly losing the ball. He reclaimed it and drove right but his pull-up jumper went off the side of the backboard and the Flames ripped down the board.
Liberty battered Winthrop on the backboards, including 14-2 in offensive rebounds. No offensive board was more important for Liberty than Williams’ inside the last 10 seconds.
“Second shot is what beats you,” said Kelsey. “It was a big scrum, kid came up with it and knocked down two big free throws. Give them credit.”
Williams came up huge for Liberty, grabbing the late offensive rebound then coolly converting his free throws.
He said he thought to himself, “God got me, I can’t miss these.”
Besides 21 points, Pickett also had seven rebounds, five assists, three blocks and two steals. Cooks pitched in 15 points, Bjorn Broman 14, including four 3-pointers, and Ferguson 12.
Winthrop is back in action on the road Friday night in a 7:30 p.m. tip-off at Charleston Southern.
LIBERTY 73, WINTHROP 70
LIBERTY (12-5): James 2-6 0-0 4, Homesley 5-7 1-1 13, Pacheco-Ortiz 3-10 4-4 11, Cabbil 7-14 0-1 19, Kemrite 2-7 2-2 8, Baxter-Bell 0-3 4-4 4, Talbert 1-4 2-2 4, McDowell 0-0 0-0 0, Williams 3-6 3-4 10, Cuffee 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 23-60 16-18 73.
WINTHROP (7-8): Ferguson 6-9 0-0 12, Pickett 6-7 8-9 21, B.Broman 4-9 2-2 14, A.Broman 1-6 2-2 5, Cooks 4-9 7-11 15, Ukaegbu 0-0 0-0 0, Hill 0-1 0-0 0, Awad 0-1 0-0 0, Zunic 1-3 0-0 3, Pupavac 0-0 0-0 0, Falden 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-45 19-24 70.
Halftime—Winthrop 33-29. 3-Point Goals—Liberty 11-30 (Cabbil 5-9, Homesley 2-4, Kemrite 2-4, Williams 1-2, Pacheco-Ortiz 1-4, James 0-1, Cuffee 0-3, Talbert 0-3), Winthrop 7-19 (B.Broman 4-8, Pickett 1-1, Zunic 1-2, A.Broman 1-5, Cooks 0-1, Hill 0-1, Awad 0-1). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Liberty 33 (Kemrite, James 6), Winthrop 27 (Cooks, Pickett, Ferguson 7). Assists—Liberty 7 (Cabbil 5), Winthrop 11 (Pickett 5). Total Fouls—Liberty 24, Winthrop 18. A—1,085 (6,100).