Liberty women win Big South, earn NCAA invite
Standout performances by Devon Brown, Reagan Miller and tournament MVP Avery Warley led No. 1 seed Liberty to a come-from-behind 81-73 victory over No. 2 seed High Point in Sunday afternoon’s Big South Women’s Basketball Championship title game. The hard-fought win inside High Point’s Millis Center wrapped up the Lady Flames’ 14th Big South title in the last 16 seasons.
Brown, named to the all-tournament team along with Warley, scored a team-high 24 points and pulled down a game-high and career-high 14 rebounds. Miller had 15 points and eight assists. Meanwhile, Warley’s third double-double in as many days consisted of 14 points and a dozen boards.
Liberty, which trailed by as many as six points during the second half before rallying, improves to 24-8 on the season. The Lady Flames will now make their 14th appearance in the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship. They will learn their destination and first-round opponent Monday at 7 p.m. on ESPN.
High Point drops to 20-12 despite outstanding individual efforts by Erin Reynolds (game-high 27 points) and the team’s lone senior, Shamia Brown (23 points, nine rebounds). Reynolds and Cheyenne Parker, who contributed 12 points and five blocked shots, were both named to the all-tournament squad. Radford’s Da’Naria Erwin Spencer rounded out the all-tournament team.
The Panthers will move on to represent the Big South Conference in the WNIT. It will be High Point’s second appearance in the tournament.
Devon Brown and Warley scored all of Liberty’s points during a game-opening 15-9 surge. Brown’s two free throws with 12:39 left in the first half closed out the surge.
Meanwhile, Shamia Brown was carrying the early workload for the black-clad Panthers, scoring 12 of her team’s first 13 points. But it was a second-chance hoop by Laura Whitt which closed out High Point’s 6-0 burst and tied the score at 15-15 at the 10:48 mark.
Liberty broke a 19-19 deadlock with a 5-0 run, taking a 24-19 edge on Tolu Omotola’s layup on an inbounds play, 7:04 before halftime.
High Point countered with a 10-1 surge, with Reynolds scoring all 10 points for the Panthers. Her three-pointer from the top of the key at the 3:46 mark gave the Panthers a 29-25 lead.
The High Point advantage got as large as six, 35-29, on another Reynolds triple. This one came with 2:03 on the first-half clock and made it 16 straight High Point markers for the junior.
The Lady Flames got back within 35-33 on a perimeter jumper by Catherine Kearney. But High Point took a 38-33 halftime lead when Laura Whitt swished a three-pointer with 21 seconds left in the period.
High Point shot 44.1 percent (15-of-34) from the floor in the first half, while Liberty made only 32.4 percent (12-of-37) of its tries. The Lady Flames did have an advantage at the charity stripe during the opening 20 minutes, hitting 87.5 percent (7-of-8) compared with 50 percent (4-of-8) for the Panthers.
Liberty outrebounded High Point during the first half, 26-21, but High Point owned the edge in both points in the paint (14-12) and second-chance points (8-4).
Devon Brown was Liberty’s top first-half scorer, tallying 11 points. Warley grabbed a team-high seven rebounds before heading to the bench with two early fouls. Miller had five assists before halftime.
Reynolds’ 16 first-half points led all players, while Shamia Brown added a dozen points. Parker hauled in seven rebounds before the break for the Panthers.
Warley scored Liberty’s first six points of the second half, and Liberty pulled to within 42-41 on Danika Dale’s layup with 15:19 to play.
But High Point bounced back with five straight points, bolstering their advantage to 47-41 when Reynolds drained a triple right in front of her team’s bench at 14:25.
Liberty gradually chipped away at its deficit and went back in front, 57-56, with 8:32 remaining on Miller’s up-and-under layup.
High Point leveled the score at 59 apiece at 7:47, when Reynolds sank her fifth triple of the afternoon.
The Lady Flames then took control by outscoring the Panthers, 11-3, over the next four minutes. During that pivotal stretch, both Parker and Reynolds fouled out of the contest for High Point. Warley, who had been saddled with foul trouble of her own for much of the afternoon, hit a layup with 3:48 left to make the score 70-62, Lady Flames.
Shamia Brown turned a steal into a layup 44 seconds later, bringing the Panthers back within six points, 70-64.
However, that was as close as High Point got the rest of the way, as Liberty closed out its victory from the foul line. The Lady Flames’ Brown and Miller combined to hit nine of their 12 free throw attempts during the final 2:37 of Liberty’s 81-73 triumph.
High Point ended up outshooting Liberty for the game, hitting 41.5 percent (27-of-65) of its field goals. The Lady Flames ended up at 36.4 percent (28-of-77). Liberty made its mark at the foul line though, making 23 of its 30 attempts for 76.7 percent. High Point was 12 of 20 for 60 percent.
Liberty ended up with sizable advantages in rebounds (56-39), points in the paint (44-26) and second-chance points (19-12). During the second half alone, the Lady Flames grabbed 17 offensive rebounds which led to 15 second-chance tallies and scored 32 of their 48 points in the paint.
Two other crucial statistics for the Lady Flames were turnovers (season-low nine) and bench points (15-3 Liberty advantage).
Devon Brown, who went 11-of-12 at the free throw line, moved into ninth place in program history with 593 career rebounds. She is now averaging 20.3 ppg in three career Big South Championship title game appearances.
Miller never left the floor during the game, playing all 40 minutes. The freshman floor general became the Liberty single-season record holder during Sunday’s contest, as she has now played 1,054 minutes. Miller only committed two turnovers during those 40 minutes, as compared with eight assists. Her assist total equaled her career high and ranks No. 3 in Big South Championship title game history.
Warley, who blocked three shots along with her scoring and rebounding totals, broke her own program single-season rebounding record on Sunday. The Washington, D.C., native, who grabbed 363 boards in 2010-11, now has 371 caroms to her credit this season.
Warley fell just one rebound shy of her Big South Championship record from 2011, pulling down 47 boards in Liberty’s three victories this weekend. Her double-double was her 15th of the season and the 47th of her career.
The Lady Flames’ bench trio of Kearney, LaKendra Washington and Jasmine Gardner played a key role in Liberty’s second-half comeback, totaling 10 points and seven rebounds between them after halftime.
For High Point, Reynolds and Brown became the first teammate duo to score 20 or more points in Big South Championship title game history. Additionally, Parker’s five rejections set a championship game record and Reynolds’ five made triples tied the championship game mark.