Caleb Homesley scored 22 of his 30 points in the second half and Lovell Cabbil hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:16 to play to send 12th-seeded Liberty to its first NCAA Tournament win in school history, 80-76 over fifth-seeded Mississippi State on Friday night.
The Flames (29-6) were making their fourth tournament trip in school history, but lost twice as a No. 16 seed and once in the play-in game. This year’s team had more respect, a higher seeding and capitalized on the opportunity.
Homesley helped rally Liberty from a 10-point deficit in the second half by scoring 14 points in a span of less than five minutes. Cabbil then hit from long range to make it 72-70 and celebrated with an enthusiastic fan section that made the cross-country trip from Virginia for the game.
Liberty did the rest at the foul line to spoil the first tournament trip for Mississippi State (23-11) in a decade.
The Flames advanced to the second round of the East Region to play the winner of the game between Saint Louis and Virginia Tech.
Quinndary Weatherspoon scored 27 points to lead the Bulldogs and Reggie Perry added 21.
Cabbil finished with 18 points and Myo Baxter-Bell added 13.
Mississippi State appeared poised to take control when Peters started a 10-0 run with a 3-pointer and ended it with a layup that made it 63-53 midway through the second half.
The Bulldogs had used their superior size to control the paint on both ends and had broken open a tight game before the Flames responded. Homesley was fouled on a 3-pointer and made all three foul shots. He then hit two from long range to cut it to 67-64.
Homesley also hit a backdoor dunk on a feed from Cabbil to make it a one-point game before hitting a long 3-pointer late in the shoot clock to put Liberty back on top 69-67 with 2:34 to play.
After three free throws from the Bulldogs, Cabbil’s 3 provided the final lead change of the night.
Liberty: The Flames showed early that they were poised to match up with a Power 5 team. They made seven 3-pointers in the first half and led by four points before Mississippi State scored the final six to lead 37-35 at the break.
Mississippi State: Coach Ben Howland’s first recruiting class for the Bulldogs finished on a down note but had an impressive run building the program. Mississippi State went to the semifinals of the NIT last year and made the tournament for the first time since 2009 this year.