Caleb Homesley had literally never been hotter and the Liberty Flames needed it.
Down by 10 with less than eight minutes to go, Homesley led the No. 12 seed a furious comeback in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to stun the No. 5-seed Mississippi State Bulldogs for a 80-76 win in San Jose.
With 7:21 to go, Mississippi State built its largest lead of the game at 63-53. From there, Homesley took over.
The guard scored 14 of Liberty’s last 27 points.
He started by getting fouled on a three-pointer and hitting all three free throws to cut the lead to 63-56.
He answered a Bulldogs layup with another three to get the lead down to 65-59. With 4:49 left, Homesley hit another three to cut the lead to 67-64, then beat Mississippi State with a backdoor cut for a dunk and capped a personal 8-0 run with another three.
The Flames jumped ahead to retake the lead at 69-67 for the first time in more than 10 minutes.
The two teams went back and forth throughout the first half.
Homesley was the driving force with a career-high 30 points, but Myo Baxter-Bell might be the cult hero from the weekend.
Listed at 6-5 and 255 pounds, Baxter-Bell finished with 10 points, four rebounds and four assists by playing an almost-unbelievable old-man game.
At one point, Baxter-Bell banked home a hook shot from straight on after he muscled his way into the paint by backing down a defender all the way from the top of the key.
Even with a likely NBA prospect at power forward with Aric Holman, Mississippi State couldn’t keep Baxter-Bell from getting position inside and opening up the perimeter.
In the end, the Bulldogs somehow kept losing track of the forward.
To ice the game, Liberty threw a Hail Mary to Baxter-Bell, who got fouled to hit the two clinching free throws with seconds left.
Twenty-five seconds earlier, Mississippi State let Baxter-Bell sneak behind them to do the same thing. Both times, fouls robbed us of a chance to see Baxter-Bell try to flush home a dunk.
March Madness has been mostly underwhelming in the upset department so far this year, but the games out in California haven’t disappointed.
Three games in, three upsets after the the No. 13-seed UC Irvine Anteaters beat the No. 4-seed Kansas State Wildcats, 70-64, and the No. 12-seed Oregon Ducks beat the No. 5-seed Wisconsin Badgers, 72-54.
The matchups between the Nos. 5 and 12 seeds have lived up to their upset-laden reputation, too, with the No. 12 seed winning three of the four.
Liberty, which now has the first Tourney win in program history, will try to keep its Cinderella run going Sunday in the second round against either the No. 4-seed Virginia Tech Hokies or the No. 13-seed Saint Louis Billikens.
Those two close out the evening at the SAP Center as Saint Louis will try to make it 3 for 3 for the underdogs out on the West Coast.