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Liberty earns win 14 in Big South

libertyFor the first time in school history, Liberty has won 14 games in Big South play after a 61-45 win over Longwood, Thursday evening. Liberty ends the regular season with a 12-5 record at the Vines Center as they improve to 19-11 overall and 14-3 in conference.

““The moto that I have about it (playing time) is you’ve always got to be thankful for the position that you are in. I’m always thankful for the position that I’m in, but I’m never satisfied,” Ryan Hiepler said following the second-highest minutes played total of his career (10 with three points). “You always have to be ready, and never be satisfied with where you are on the bench.”

For Liberty, three players scored in double figures led by Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz with 13 points, while Lovell Cabbil pulled down a team-high six rebounds. Longwood’s Khris Lane led the game with 14 points to go along with five rebounds.

Liberty’s defense forced 20 turnovers throughout the game and on Senior Night, Liberty’s John Dawson scored nine points, pulled down five rebounds to go along with two assists.

“It’s not overwhelming, it’s satisfying to know that I have a family always here,” Dawson said about the Senior Night presentation. “I’m blessed to be a part of this organization and to play for this school.”

It was an offensive first half as Longwood shot 52.2 percent (12-of-23) and Liberty was 44.0 percent from the floor (11-of-25) and 41.7 percent from beyond the arc (5-of-12). After a Senior Night presentation where Ray Chen and Dawson where honored, it was the freshman stealing the show.

Liberty’s Myo Baxter-Bell and Pacheco-Ortiz scored the team’s first 12 points as the Flames grabbed the early 12-4 lead. Longwood countered with a 9-0 run to retake the lead (13-12) with 11:25 left in the first half.

As the half progressed, both teams exchanged the lead nine different times during the first. As Brock Gardner gave Liberty the lead at 19-18 with less than nine minutes left in the half, Liberty’s defense held Longwood to a scoring draught for two minutes and 57 seconds.

Despite going through a scoring draught, Longwood would once again retake the lead again late in the half. Coming off the bench to make an impact was Liberty’s Hiepler as he hit a three-pointer to tie the game, come up with a steal and dish an assist all in one minute to help Liberty take the lead.

“I just felt like if we needed him (Hiepler), we could put him in and we could trust him,” head coach Ritchie McKay said about Hiepler. “Then you look at our senior John (Dawson) who has made a significant contribution. Rarely do you have a guy in your program who is willing to do whatever it takes to make their teammates better.”

As Hiepler got the crowd loud, Gardner had the fans rise to its feet with an alley-oop dunk from A.C. Reid with 51 seconds left in the first half. Liberty would go into halftime with a 31-26 lead over the Lancers.

The Flames received scoring contributions from six different players led by Gardner with seven points. Liberty was able to hold Longwood’s bench scoreless during the first half while the Flames’ bench contributed 10 points. Khris Lane led Longwood in the first half with 10 points.

Liberty came out the gates hot in the second half starting on a 9-0 run, while not allowing Longwood to score in the first four minutes of the half. Liberty hit a trio of three-pointers in the first three minutes that helped Liberty extend its lead to 40-26. Just like the first half when Liberty made a run to take the lead, Longwood would respond with a run of its own.

After an 8-0 run by the Lancers, Liberty’s lead was cut to eight points (42-34) with 13 minutes left in the game. Liberty’s defense regrouped as they held the Lancers scoreless for 6:14 to get back to a double-digit lead (48-35). During that time, Liberty went on a 21-2 run while holding Longwood to 1-of-6 from the field with 10 turnovers to seal the victory.

Liberty will close out the regular season on Saturday when they travel to North Carolina to take on UNC Asheville. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. and both team’s final regular season game will be televised on the American Sports Network.