SAN JOSE, Calif. — Down by 10 points with less than seven minutes to play against a more accomplished opponent, Liberty didn't give in a bit. Instead, the Flames just kept getting the ball to Caleb Homesley.
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, 80-76 over fifth-seeded Mississippi State on Friday night.
"Everybody on the team believed we were going to come back," Homesley said. "It was just a matter of time that we were going to make a run."
The Flames (29-6) were making their fourth tournament trip in school history, but lost twice as a No. 16 seed and once in a play-in game. This year's team had more respect, a higher seeding and capitalized on the opportunity. Liberty advanced to the second round of the East Region to play Virginia Tech — a West Coast meeting between two southwest Virginia schools 85 miles apart.
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.
"He took over. He's done that on occasion for us. He's had spurts," coach Ritchie McKay said. "When he starts to feel good about his shot, he's such a dangerous offensive player."
Cabbil then hit from long range to make it 72-70 and celebrated with an enthusiastic fan section that made the cross-country trip 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.
Quinndary Weatherspoon scored 27 points to lead the Bulldogs and Reggie Perry added 21.
"It's just a tough, tough pill, tough one to swallow, especially the way we had that lead late in the game," coach Ben Howland said.
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 had a backdoor dunk on a feed from Cabbil to make it a one-point game before hitting a long 3-pointer late in the shot 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.
"We just have an incredible belief throughout this entire team," Cabbil said. "Even when we got down by 10, everyone was still yelling, 'We can get back into this.' Down the end we were able to get some critical stops, a couple of charges, some big-time 3s."
Cabbil finished with 18 points and Myo Baxter-Bell added 13.
Friday's other NCAA men's tournament results:
Iowa 79, Cincinnati 72
Oklahoma 95, Mississippi 72
Texas Tech 72, Northern Kentucky 57
UC Irvine 70, Kansas State 64
Tennessee 77, Colgate 70
Virginia 71, Gardner-Webb 56
Buffalo 91, Arizona State 74
Oregon 72, Wisconsin 54
Washington 78, Utah State 61
Duke 85, North Dakota State 62M
Houston 84, Georgia State 55
Liberty 80, Mississippi State 76
North Carolina 88, Iona 73
UCF 73, VCU 58
Ohio State 62, Iowa State 59
Virginia Tech 66, Saint Louis 52