|No. 12 Liberty looks for encore vs. Virginia Tech|
Liberty guard Caleb Homesley was one of the heroes of the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The redshirt junior scored a career-high 30 points -- 22 in the second half, 14 in the final seven minutes -- to rally the 12th-seeded Flames to an 80-76 victory over Mississippi State on Friday in an East Region game in San Jose, Calif.
"I thought it was special," Liberty coach Ritchie McKay said of Homesley's performance. "He took over. He's done that on occasion for us. He's had spurts. ...
"When he starts to feel good about his shot, he's such a dangerous offensive player because he can score at all three levels, but he's also a tremendous passer."
Homesley won't be the only good guard story Sunday when Liberty (29-6) plays its second-round game against fourth-seeded Virginia Tech.
The Hokies (25-8) handled 13th-seeded Saint Louis 66-52 on Friday night, getting a boost of energy from the return of senior point guard Justin Robinson.
The school's career assists leader, out since Jan. 30 because of a foot injury, entered with 13:39 left in the first half. He sparked the Hokies with nine points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals in 28 minutes.
"It's hard for me to quantify the peace that I have when 5 is on the floor," said coach Buzz Williams, referring to Robinson's jersey number. "Statistically, I thought he was OK. But when the ball is in his hand, I feel like he is going to make the right decision for Virginia Tech."
Robinson wasn't on a minutes restriction. He appeared to be in discomfort at one point late in the second half but said afterward he felt OK.
"I think the first couple of possessions I was just trying to get my teammates the ball, and throughout the whole game, I just let them carry me," he said on truTV. "I hit a 3 early, and I feel that kind of got my confidence."
This second-round matchup will be an all-Virginia affair -- and a rematch of sorts. The teams played an exhibition game on the Liberty campus in Lynchburg on Nov. 4 to benefit hurricane-relief efforts.
For what it's worth, Robinson poured in 20 points while Homesley had six as the Hokies won 86-70.
Homesley averages 12.5 points, but 6-foot-8 post player Scottie James leads the team at 12.9 points per game. He struggled against Mississippi State's interior length, finishing with six points on 3-of-7 shooting, but Myo Baxter-Bell came off the bench to help.
The burly junior -- he's 6-5, 255 pounds -- had 13 points, four rebounds and four assists in 18 minutes.
"Scottie is a really good player, and he felt like he didn't get off to a good start, but that's what teammates are for," Baxter-Bell said. "We pick each other up."
Virginia Tech doesn't have the same quantity of tall trees as Mississippi State had, but the Hokies have 6-10 Kerry Blackshear Jr. to lead the battle against James and Baxter-Bell. Blackshear entered the tournament averaging 14.7 points; he scored 15 against the Billikens.
Virginia Tech let a 22-point halftime lead get down to 10 against Saint Louis.
Liberty trailed Mississippi State by 10 points with seven minutes to go before Homesley and Lovell Cabbil Jr. (18 points) fueled the comeback.
Virginia Tech has tied the school record for wins in a season (1994-95, 2009-10) and is the highest seed it has ever been in the NCAA Tournament.
Liberty earned its first tourney win in four tries.
"I don't think that we're done yet," Homesley said. "Our guys believe that whenever we step into a venue that we're going to win the game."
--Field Level Media