Liberty earns 1st NCAA tourney bid since 2013, tops Lipscomb

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Atlantic Sun Liberty Lipscomb Basketball_1552257626653

Liberty forward Scottie James (31) celebrates with Lovell Cabbil Jr. (3) after James made a free throw late in the second half of the Atlantic Sun NCAA college basketball tournament championship game against Lipscomb Sunday, March 10, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. Liberty won 74-68. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Scottie James’ layup with 55.8 seconds left put Liberty ahead to stay and the Flames capped their first season in a new conference by topping Lipscomb 74-68 Sunday for the ASUN Tournament championship and their first NCAA Tournament trip since 2013.

A year after losing the Big South Conference tournament final on a 3 at the buzzer, Liberty won at packed Allen Arena in a game that featured 18 lead changes in the second half. The Flames won for the second time this season on Lipscomb’s home court.

Liberty (28-6) switched to the ASUN Conference for this season and split the regular season title with Lipscomb. The Flames earned their fourth NCAA Tournament bid overall and first since playing in the Big South.

The Flames, from Lynchburg, Virginia, were up 29-28 at halftime and never led by more than four.

Garrison Mathews, the ASUN player of the year, made a pair of free throws with 1:31 left to give Lipscomb its last lead at 66-65. James then scored, and Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz hit a 3 with 14.8 seconds remaining for a 70-65 lead. James added two free throws with 8.4 seconds to go for the final margin.

James led Liberty with 17 points. Pacheco-Ortiz added 16, Lovell Cabbil Jr. had 14 and Caleb Homesley 11.

Lipscomb (25-7) was trying to seal its second NCAA Tournament berth. The Bisons beat Florida Gulf Coast on the road last year in the ASUN Tournament championship game.

The Bisons led 28-20 with 4:52 left in the first half. Liberty scored the final nine capped by a layup by Cabbil giving the Flames a 29-28 halftime lead.

Matthews finished with 21 points, Rob Marberry had 18 and Kenny Cooper 14 for Lipscomb.

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