LYNCHBURG, Va. – Ryan Kemrite and Lovell Cabill each scored career highs and combined for 55 points to lead Liberty past the Norfolk State men’s basketball team by a 73-64 score on Monday night at the Vines Center in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
Competing in the John McLendon Classic, the first game of the CIT and the only Division I contest on the day, the Flames knocked down 12-of-28 from long range, including 8-of-16 in the first half. Liberty’s defense, meanwhile, clamped down on NSU in the first period before the Spartans got things going in the second.
But in the end, the Flames ended NSU’s season at 17-17 overall, giving the Spartans their sixth straight .500 or better record.
Both aforementioned Liberty players shot 9-of-13 from the floor. Kemrite hit 6-of-10 from long range for a career-high 30 points, and Cabbil from 4-of-8 from deep for a career-best 25 points.
It was a battle of guards, as NSU’s Jonathan Wade made 4-of-9 from 3-point range and 6-of-14 overall for a 22-point night in the last game of his career. Junior Zaynah Robinson sank 5-of-12 overall and 3-of-7 from beyond the arc for 19 points to go along with seven assists. Both players also made 6-of-6 from the free throw line.
Liberty improved to 20-13 overall and advanced to the next round of the CIT. NSU was taking part in its fourth straight CIT while making its sixth straight overall postseason appearance.
It was a tale of two halves for NSU, which shot just 36 percent in the first half in falling behind by 11 at the break. But in the second, the Spartans nearly doubled their point total from the first half and made it a game until NSU got stuck in a cold stretch.
Down 33-22 at the half, the Spartans quickly cut into the Liberty lead early in the second period, pulling to within 38-32 on junior Dan Robinson‘s 3-point play at the 16:24 mark. Less than a minute later, Wade drained a 3-pointer from the right corner to begin a 12-2 run and put the Spartans ahead, 44-42, their first lead since the opening bucket of the game.
The Flames, though, immediately scored the next nine points to put themselves ahead by seven. It was part of a larger 21-6 run that extended Liberty’s lead to 13, 63-50, with 5:37 to go. The Spartans went eight minutes in between buckets during that time, scoring all six of their points from the foul line until Zaynah Robinson made a long range shot from the left side.
Liberty stretched its lead up to 15 right after that, its largest of the contest. NSU only got to single digits at the very end when Wade made a layup at the buzzer.
The Spartans shot 11-of-22 in the second half, including 6-of-11 from long range. They finished the game 19-of-44 (43.2 percent) as well as 9-of-20 from deep.
The first period showed Liberty’s true colors, as the Flames made shot after shot from deep while using a pack-line defensive mentality to slow down NSU.
Liberty sank four 3-pointers early on to help build a 14-5 lead to start the game. They stretched it to 20-8 with seven and a half minutes left in the half on Kemrite’s third trey – and the team’s sixth – of the first period. Cabbil then sank his third 3-pointer of the half, part of a closing stretch in which he scored 11 of Liberty’s last 13 points going into the locker room.
His layup with five minutes left pushed the Flames’ lead to its largest of the period at 13, 25-12. A pair of free throws from Wade and a nice reverse layup high off the glass from Zaynah Robinson got the Spartans to within eight late in the half before the Flames extended it to 11.
Cabbil and Kemrite combined for 28 of LU’s 33 points and seven of its eight 3-pointers at that point.
For the game, Liberty made 25-of-47 (53.2 percent) overall. The Flames used their defense to force NSU into 18 turnovers, which led to a 25-8 advantage in points off turnovers for Liberty.
NSU countered by controlling the glass, 32-21, and hitting 17-of-23 from the foul line.
Perhaps like no player in recent memory, Wade made one of the biggest splashes in recent program history in terms of his improved performance. After sitting behind three double-digit scorers last year, Wade emerged this season to earn first-team All-MEAC honors. His +13.5 scoring increase from last year ranked fourth in the nation.
He averaged 19.4 points per game this year and finished with 852 total points in his two-year career. That included 658 this season, which ranks second in NSU’s Division I history. He also set the D-I record for free throws made (163) and finished in the top 15 in scoring average, field goals and attempts, 3-point field goals and attempts, free throw attempts, 3-point field goal percentage and even rebounds and rebound average.
Wade also finished 10th all-time at NSU in 3-point field goal percentage (37.2), 15th in free throw percentage (76.8) and 19th in 3-point field goals (80) and attempts (215). He totaled 319 rebounds, 82 assists, 35 steals and five blocks while shooting 46.2 percent overall in 67 games at NSU, including 35 starts.
Okoro competed in just one season for NSU after transferring from Rutgers. After sitting out the fall semester, he came on to serve as a solid backup in the scoring department to Wade and Robinson. Okoro averaged 7.3 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 24 games, including 19 starts. He also added 14 steals and 12 blocks while shooting 34.5 percent from 3-point range.
Ward played in 15 games and made four starts but was sidelined by injury for most of the last half of the season. A graduate transfer from North Texas, he tallied 3.8 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.1 assists with six steals and five blocks in his only season with the Spartans.
NSU will bring back nine of the 12 players who competed this year along with senior Preston Bungei, who missed the season due to injury but will be able to use a redshirt year.
Originally published at nsuspartans.com