The 2011 Liberty Flames could have had brothers of two NBA stars on their team. It was three years ago when Seth Curry, brother of Stephen Curry, decided to leave the Flames as a freshman to go to Duke. He averaged 20 points as a freshman so one could only imagine how good he would be going into his senior year. Evan Gordon, the brother of Eric Gordon, at least gave 2 years to Liberty before bolting to Arizona State. Adding to the transfers was John Brown, who averaged a double double last year, was lost for the season with a knee injury. This Liberty team could have been something special going into the season, but instead they were coming off a loss at Campbell and only one win against D-I competition.
While Coastal Carolina didn't have quite the losses Liberty has had to deal with. They did have their own drama last year when South Carolina transfer Mike Holmes was kicked off the team for a "violation of team rules." It didn't take long for people to figure out what happened when leading scorer Desmond Holloway sat out the next game with a black eye. Towards the end of the season, Holloway was not dressing for games as there were murmurs of an NCAA investigation. Then the NY Times article came out where former player Marcus Macellari, who had his scholarship revoked, accused several players as receiving illegal benefits. Coastal fans said it was sour grapes, while opposing Big South fans wanted the NCAA to bring the hammer down on the Chants. It wasn't until a few weeks ago that the NCAA ruled only a minor infraction as Holloway had received a $25 shirt. The damage had already been done though, as Holloway left the program in the offseason and is now playing in Europe. While CCU has started off with a great season so far, it begs to ask how much better they would be with Holloway.
With all that in mind, going in the matchup of Coastal Carolina and Liberty I thought of what might have been with both teams. I wasn't too excited going into the game especially since I had to sit through CCU's previous borefest 2 days earlier against VMI. I was glad to see the pep band was back, as was the entire cheerleading and dance teams. The crowd was a bit late arriving because of the afternoon start, but Kimbel filled in several minutes into the game. I've been a bit harsh on the students and fan enthusiasm as of late and wasn't expecting much better for this game, but the energy was high throughout the game. It was a lot louder and the students were into it.
I figured that this might be an easy win for the Chanticleers, but I was wrong again as Liberty started the game with hot shooting. They still had the Big South Player of the Year in Jesse Sanders to go along with solid players David Minaya, Antwan Burrus, and impressive freshman Tavares Speaks. Liberty was playing a zone that CCU had trouble figuring out at first. Coastal has had trouble shooting 3's the past few years, but Chris Gradnigo shot his way over the top of it with four 1st half 3's.
During one of the media timeouts they decided to play a game I hadn't seen before with 2 students who had to dribble from one end of the floor to the other and make a layup all while trying to pick up a total of 10 pizza boxes. The game got a bit ugly as the 2 students decided to kick at each others stack of boxes sending them all over the floor and into the teams' huddles. That's probably the last time they will try playing that game.
Also, right before halftime I was impressed with the cheerleaders. They don't normally do too many acrobatics and usually stick with standard cheers and pyramids, but decided to chuck a girl into the rafters.
Thankfully they caught her and we didn't have another ugly cheerleader mishap that we've seen a few times this week.
I was glad that I was wrong on so many accounts going into the game. Everything was a lot more fun than I expected and even when I thought CCU was going to pull away, Liberty fought back, eventually tying the score with 12 minutes left. The rest of the game was a tough defensive battle with everyone earning their points. Coastal was building a bit of a lead and it wasn't until under two minutes to go when Kierre Greenwood broke down his defender and scored on a spinning layup that got the entire crowd on their feet. The game would become a free throw battle after that and CCU came away with a hard fought 78-68 victory.
When I was expecting a great game against VMI I got anything but and going into the Liberty game I wasn't expecting much and got a very entertaining battle. It goes to show that you can never predict this Beautiful Game. You can't think of the "what-ifs" and "what's going to happen," sometimes you just have to sit back and enjoy it.
at COASTAL CAROLINA 78, LIBERTY 68 12/03/2011
LIBERTY 2-7 (0-2) -- L. Lowe 2-4 3-4 7; J. Sanders 2-10 4-5 9; D. Minaya 6-15 2-2 14; T. Speaks 7-11 1-2 15; A. Burrus 6-14 0-0 12; J. Sanders 2-6 0-0 5; J. Vander Pol 0-2 2-6 2; C. Phillips 2-4 2-2 6; E. Layer 1-2 0-1 3; S. Baird 1-1 0-0 2; K. Assinesi 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-65 11-18 68. COASTAL CAROLINA 7-1 (2-0) -- C. Gradnigo 8-16 2-2 23; A. Raffa 7-11 2-3 17; S. McLaurin 4-4 1-2 9; K. Greenwood 2-7 7-9 11; W. Gillis 1-4 2-2 4; J. Pack 1-4 0-0 2; D. Moore 3-5 1-1 9; B. Crawford 1-1 0-0 2; J. Griffin 0-2 1-2 1. Totals 27-54 16-21 78.
Three-point goals: LIB 3-12 (D. Minaya 0-3; J. Sanders 1-3; J. Caleb Sanders 1-4; E. Layer 1-2), CCU 8-18 (C. Gradnigo 5-9; A. Raffa 1-4; D. Moore 2-4; K. Greenwood 0-1); Rebounds: LIB 33 (A. Burrus 10), CCU 33 (C. Gradnigo 7); Assists: LIB 13 (J. Sanders 10), CCU 16 (A. Raffa 5); Total Fouls -- LIB 19, CCU 21; Fouled Out: LIB-None; CCU-None.