Game #9-299: Coastal Carolina Chanticleers at Liberty FlamesJanuary 12, 2013 6:00 pm
On the second stop of my Big South Virginia trip, I headed to Lynchburg, Virginia to see Liberty face off against Coastal Carolina. I had some intrigue seeing Liberty since it is no secret that the school not only wants to be out of the Big South, but make a move to the FBS ranks
in football as well. The Flames would gladly take an invite from any football conference that would take them, but due to their religious affiliation and location, they have been a tough sell for any conference looking to expand.
The university has spent tons of money in upgrading its athletics--be it the salaries, to the operations and the facilities. When I arrived on campus, there were plenty of construction signs around the football stadium which is undergoing another upgrade to improve capacity.
I wish I had more time to walk around the Liberty campus and take a few pictures, but it was getting dark and I had to make it to tip off. I will say I was impressed with the giant structures that were all throughout the campus. It was more comparable to schools above the Red Line than to that of any other Big South school.
The Vines Center itself is way oversized for that of a Big South school, and the only arena in the conference that is somewhat comparable is the Winthrop Coliseum. The fact that there is a proposal to expand on the Vines Center
from 8,000 to 12,000 seems ridiculous if Liberty cannot find a new home for their teams. I added up all of the home attendances from Saturday's Big South games and it was 9,133. I am sure most if not all of those attendance figures were inflated.
The high-domed ceiling captures all of the sound and puts a damper on the game's atmosphere. It took me a few minutes to figure out where this weird echoing sound was coming from. I then realized it was anytime the basketball was bounced, it would make the odd reverberation sound anytime the crowd was too quiet for you to hear.
Unfortunately for Flames' fans, it is usually quiet since the basketball program has not given the fans too much to cheer about as of late. Liberty has mainly struggled in recent years under head coach Dale Layer and this year started off with more of the same troubles. Liberty was 4-12 entering the game, with three of those wins coming against non-Division I competition. The Flames have been competitive in several games holding several leads or remaining close at halftime, only to fall apart in the second half in most of their losses. This was a desperate Liberty team looking for its first conference win against Coastal to prevent a 0-3 start.
Coastal Carolina was in the midst of what a lot of people thought was the easy part of their schedule. The Chants struggled with Longwood
on the road, but ended up putting them away late and had an ugly first half against Presbyterian
until they did the same to the Blue Hose in the second half. In facing Liberty, some thought 3-0 was a foregone conclusion, but I had seen Coastal play enough times this year to know they are very adept at playing bad games on the road
I knew Liberty had some talent despite their record, I assumed it was the leadership that was lacking after all-Big South point guard Jesse Sanders had graduated. His brother, John Caleb, was still there, along with a strong group of frontcourt players in Joel Vander Pol, Andrew Smith, Tomasz Gielo, and J.R. Coronado. But the team had yet to gel to be able to close out those early games.
As I mentioned earlier, I did not have much time to make it to the game since I was running a little bit late. I kept running into reserved parking lots that needed passes, so it took me a while to find a suitable place to park and then make the walk to the Vines Center. I only missed the first thirty seconds, so not too much damage done. In reality, I could have missed the first several minutes since Coastal was up 6-0 at the first media timeout.
The Flames were turning the the ball over at will and could not get too many shots off. The team finally settled in and started knocking down some threes from Gielo and Davon Marshall. Liberty went on a 14-2 run, but Coastal came back with the next six points, as you could tell each team was going to score in spurts.
Gielo would hit back to back threes as Liberty started to take control in the paint with a decided size and experience advantage. Coastal prides itself in out-rebounding the opponent and they were getting second chances, but squandered them by either not going up strong or bricking their open jumpers. The only offense the Chanticleers could generate was from Kierre Greenwood who drove strong to the basket and had 12 of CCU's 20 points at the half.
At the half was a performance by the Liberty cheerleaders and I thought it would just be another ho-hum show that was akin to others I had seen before. I was wrong on those accounts as they were the most acrobatic cheerleaders for a team I have seen below the Red Line and they put on a complex, competition-worthy performance. Just another example of how Liberty is trying to up their game in every athletic aspect.
The team that needed to up their performance were the Flames though, who had a seven-point lead, but had the history of blowing it in the second stanza. I thought Coastal would get out of their funk, but they helped out the Flames by turning the ball over on the first three possessions. A hot shooting and attacking Gielo would quickly push the lead up to 13 forcing a timeout from the Chanticleers.
Coastal's Anthony Raffa looked to get out of his shooting woes with six straight points, but that was only short lived. Much of the offensive load was still being carried by Greenwood as CCU's freshmen wings Badou Diagne and Michel Enanga combined to go 2-for-19 and could not hit anything. Liberty was getting contributions from everyone as Gielo stayed solid and Tavaras Speaks and J.C. Sanders also pitched in.
Liberty was outhustling Coastal, but the Chants were within striking distance after a handful a free throws cut it to 50-44. Liberty could have crumbled, but Sanders came up clutch, much like his brother, and scored two driving lay-ups to extend the lead. Greenwood, not to be outdone, scored five quick points to cut the lead back to four. But Marshall would hit a big three with 2:00 to go. CCU resorted to fouling, but could not get any closer as Liberty made their foul shots. Coastal ended up wasting Greenwood's career high of 27 and Liberty got its first Big South win 64-56.
As I left the Liberty campus, I figured this could very well be the first and last time I would be here when Liberty is a member of the Big South. You have to figure with all the time and money spent on the program that a conference will eventually pick them up despite some of its controversies. While the basketball team may have a long way to go in terms of being able to compete at a higher level, they were still able to take a step in the right direction and get a solid win that will hopefully turn their season around.
at LIBERTY 64, COASTAL CAROLINA 56
COASTAL CAROLINA 7-7 (2-1) -- K. Greenwood 9-16 8-9 27; W. Gillis 2-7 4-4 8; E. Ndieguene 1-5 0-0 2; B. Diagne 1-9 0-0 2; A. Raffa 3-10 1-3 8; M. Enanga 1-10 1-3 3; C. Ashford 1-5 2-2 4; U. Ljeskovic 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 19-65 16-21 56.
LIBERTY 5-12 (1-2) -- T. Speaks 2-9 7-8 11; J. Sanders 5-7 2-3 13; T. Gielo 5-6 5-6 19; D. Marshall 2-8 0-0 6; J. Coronado 2-4 0-2 4; J. Vander Pol 3-5 1-2 7; C. Roberts 1-3 1-1 3; A. Smith 0-0 1-2 1; L. Taylor 0-0 0-0 0; C. Donley 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-42 17-24 64.
Three-point goals: CCU 2-20 (A. Raffa 1-6; K. Greenwood 1-3; W. Gillis 0-3; B. Diagne 0-6; M. Enanga 0-2), LIB 7-15 (J. Caleb Sanders 1-2; T. Gielo 4-4; T. Speaks 0-1; D. Marshall 2-7; C. Roberts 0-1); Rebounds: CCU 31 (E. Ndieguene 8), LIB 31 (J. Vander Pol 8); Assists: CCU 4 (M. Enanga 2), LIB 10 (T. Speaks 4); Total Fouls -- CCU 21, LIB 19; Fouled Out: CCU-None; LIB-None.