Liberty defense leads to win over Radford in OT

libertyIn order to tie program history by winning its first four conference road games of the season, Liberty had to go to overtime against Radford, downing the Highlanders, 71-64, at the Dedmon Center on Saturday.

After an exceptional first half of defense by Liberty where they held the Highlanders to 12 points, Radford stormed all the way back from a 25-point deficit to send the game into overtime. Liberty was able to regroup during the extra period with clutch free throw shooting, connecting on 12-of-14 attempts to move to 4-0 on the road in league play this season.

Following the win, Liberty is now above .500 for the season (10-9) and remained tied in first place in the Big South with a 5-1 conference record. Four of Liberty’s five starters reached double figures led by Lovell Cabbil with 16 points.

The Highlanders (8-10, 3-3 BSC) went into the game averaging 72.2 points per game during conference play and Liberty held them to a season-low 12 points in the first half and a field goal percentage of 34.4 for the game (21-of-61).

The Flames had the task of stopping Caleb Tanner who was averaging 14.2 points per game in conference play and Liberty held him to 10 points, with Justin Cousin leading Radford with 16 points.

The Flames were efficient to start the game on both ends of the court, limiting Radford to just two points during the first five minutes while the team jumped out to a five-point lead (7-2). Radford continued to struggle with Liberty’s defense as the Flames converted nine points off turnovers during the first half while the offense continued to perform at a high rate, shooting 52 percent from the field.

Liberty’s bench made an immediate impact on the game, scoring 12 points during the first half led by A.C. Reid with eight points. The Flames’ defense did an exceptional job of protecting the three-point line during the first half as Radford was 0-12 from the three-point arc. The Flames saw a balanced scoring attack as seven different players scored during the opening 20 minutes of play led by Cabbil with 10 points.

The stifling defense of Liberty continued as the Flames held Radford scoreless for more than four minutes to close out the first half. Cabbil was the first player to reach double-digit scoring as he notched his sixth game scoring double digits and his fourth in conference.

Twelve points in the first half was a season low for Radford, shooting 15.4 percent from the field (4-26). The starting five of the Highlanders struggled to develop a rhythm on offense, scoring just six points off one made field goal.

Once again sparked by a stop on defense, the Flames got off to a solid start with a layup plus the foul from Ryan Kemrite to jump out to a 37-12 lead. As expected, Radford’s offense picked up during the second half led by Ed Polite Jr. with six points in the first seven minutes of the period. The Highlanders continued to climb back into the game as they went on a 7-0 run to come within 11 points (45-34) with 11:34 left in regulation.

The Highlanders used the free throw line to stay in the game as they made 13-17 from the line during regulation. Once again the Highlanders came within 11 points of Liberty’s lead but the Flames continued to fight back to extend its lead as John Dawson hit a back-to-back three pointers to make it 53-39 with 7:45 left in the game.

After cutting the lead to 11 points twice, Radford trimmed Liberty’s lead to single digits with six minutes left and further to six points, 55-49, at the 4:58 mark of the second half. With less than two minutes left in regulation, the Highlanders cut it to three points (59-56) off a three-pointer by Tanner. Randy Phillips converted a layup off a missed shot to tie the game with 47 seconds left at 59-59, giving the Highlanders 21 points off 16 offensive rebounds.

Radford had a chance to win in regulation, but Dawson forced a turnover to send the game into overtime.

Radford was the first team to take the lead in the overtime off a free throw with three minutes left by Polite Jr., but on the next possession, Liberty regained the lead for good off a pair of Kemrite free throws with2:45 left to play in overtime (61-60).

Myo Baxter-Bell made an impact during overtime with a pair of free throws to make it 63-60 at the 1:53mark followed up by forcing a turnover on the next possession. Besides it solid shooting at the line, Liberty’s defense held strong during overtime by limiting the Highlanders to 1-of-6 shooting during the extra period.

The Flames will return to the Vines Center as they host Gardner-Webb on Thursday.

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