BRIGHTON, Mich. -- The Liberty men's lacrosse team, ranked 20th in the Under Armour MCLA Division I Coaches Poll, was limited to one goal after halftime in Monday afternoon's 8-4 loss at No. 18 Michigan State.
The Spartans scored eight of the game's final 10 goals to prevent the Flames from staging their first road win against a ranked opponent since they moved up to the Division I level in 2014.
Temperatures outside the new Legacy Center hovered above freezing, but weather was not a factor in the contest -- a rare indoor matchup for the Flames.
Fatigue may have been for both teams, however, as Liberty (1-1) was recovering from a 12-hour road trip and Michigan State (3-0) was coming off wins over No. 23 Minnesota on Friday and Indiana on Saturday.
"We'll have more chances down the road, but this was an opportunity we definitely let slip away from us," said Liberty coach Kyle McQuillan. "We definitely beat ourselves. We made a lot of mistakes and lost a lot of focus we had in the first half."
Freshman midfielder Carter Elliott started the scoring before Liberty extended its lead to 2-0 with 12 seconds left in the first quarter when sophomore attack Sam Gregory spun between two defenders in the left crease and bounced a shot past Michigan State goalie Kevin Boland.
"Michigan State was great at keeping possession and held the ball for the majority of the first quarter," McQuillan said. "We struggled maintaining possession for much of the game, but I felt really good, specifically about the way our defense played, so credit needs to go to them."
The Spartans trimmed the deficit to 2-1 right off a second-quarter faceoff won by Hunter Stephans when freshman leading scorer Bennett Osterink assisted Brett Braun on a fast-break finish. With 11:07 left in the first half, MSU attack Charlie Pistner tied it at 2-2 with an unassisted score.
Michigan State grabbed a 3-2 with 5:31 left in the first half when Stevie McKeen ripped a left-handed shot from the top left side of the box past Flames sophomore goalie Brayden Harriman.
Moments later, with Liberty on a man advantage, Caleb Britton netted the equalizer. He received an assist from cousin and fellow Flames freshman attack Elijah Britton, tying the game at threes on a shot from the perimeter by that glanced off Boland into the cage.
"That was our only man-up opportunity we capitalized on out of five or six for the game," McQuillan said.
Liberty junior midfielder Jacob Campbell won seven of 15 faceoffs and the Flames had 12 ground-ball pickups for the contest, but left about as many on the turf.
Boland saved all five shots he faced in the third quarter after Michigan State seized a 4-3 lead on an early score. Pistner then hit the post with a shot from the right side before Braun picked up the loose ball and fired a backhand past a drawn-out Harriman into the open net, stretching the Spartans' lead to 5-3.
Michigan State killed a one-minute penalty with 6:30 left in the fourth quarter before Osterink pushed the Spartans' lead to 6-3 with a shot from the top of the box with 4:52 remaining in regulation. After the Flames turned the ball back over on a clearing attempt, Piston finished a short fast break with a point-blank shot over Harriman.
"In the third and fourth quarters, we couldn't generate much offense," McQuillan said. "We got some looks, but didn't capitalize on our opportunities. We need to capitalize when teams of that caliber make mistakes because they don't make many."
Michigan State did not have a turnover on transition on approximately 15 clears for the contest.
"They were very effective in clearing the ball against us and riding our clears," McQuillan said. "One of our biggest weaknesses was our inability to clear the ball effectively, especially late in the game. Guys weren't getting open and Michigan State was able to capitalize on our mistakes in the second half."
The Flames pulled Harriman (five saves) and ran their Raider defense to try to force a turnover, but the strategy backfired and Osterink made it 8-3 with 2:07 to go by splitting a double-team and firing into an open net.
Liberty responded by capping the scoring with a putback by senior attack Nick Lombardozzi off a shot by freshman Derrick Esh.
The Flames will host SELC Northwest Region rival Tennessee (1-3) on Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Liberty Lacrosse Field.
"We have a chance this weekend to respond with a regional game," McQuillan said. "We're looking forward to being able to rebound and hopefully build our confidence back up. If we dwell on this setback, it's going to be a long season. We need to identify areas where we can improve and make those adjustments."