Liberty hits buzzer-beater to remain tied for first in Big South

libertyIt took a buzzer-beating three-pointer off the glass from A.C. Reid to keep Liberty tied for first place in the Big South as the Flames defeated Radford 57-54, Saturday night in the Vines Center. In a game where Liberty didn’t not have its best offensive performance, the Flames allowed the Highlanders to make just seven field goals in the second half to pull off the come from behind victory. With the win, Liberty moves to  15-10 overall and 10-2 in the Big South.

Tonight we showed a lot of growth and maturity,” head coach Ritchie McKay said. “A.C.’s just got this uncanny way about him. I trust him, I trust them all but he’s got deep range. But, let’s call a spade a spade; he made a great play, the guy was contesting it. It wasn’t the play we drew up, it was A.C. making a play.”

After Radford tied the game with four seconds left (54-54) on a fade away three-pointer by Justin Cousin, Liberty inbounded the ball and ran it to half court to call a timeout with two seconds remaining. Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz inbounded the ball to Reid, who took one dribble, and from 24-feet, hit a bank shot to send Liberty home with a win.

“This means a lot because we really had to grind this one out. We didn’t play well defensively in the first half,” Reid said. “I think in the second half we came out and did what we did. I am just happy coach trusted me that I could make something happen in two seconds.”

Leading the way for the Flames was Pacheco-Ortiz with career-highs in points (15), and rebounds (6) to go along with three assists and a steal.

The win was Liberty’s third of the season when they were outshot by its opponent. Radford shot 42 percent for the game compared to Liberty’s 40 percent. Radford had four players in double-digits led by Cousin and Caleb Tanner with 11 points each.

Liberty got off to a sluggish start, missing its first three shots, allowing Radford  to jump out to a 6-0 lead. The Highlanders were 6-9 from the field to start the game led by Randy Philips with six points. Looking to shift the momentum, Liberty went on a 9-0 run sparked by a John Dawson dunk at 14:54 and a layup by Lovell Cabbil to tie the game at 14-all at 13:44.

Coming off the bench to make an immediate impact for the Flames was freshman Brock Gardner, making his first two three-pointer attempts along with two steals and a rebound in seven minutes. The Flames took its first lead at 12:19 of the first half on a Gardner three-pointer to put Liberty up, 17-16.

Both teams used a hot hand from behind the arc in the first half, combining to shoot 40.4 percent. Using its size advantage, Radford took advantage of Liberty on the glass, grabbing five offensive rebounds and capitalized with eight second chance points.

After Liberty went on its run, Radford responded with a 16-5 run of their own to make it, 34-25 Highlanders with 3:40 left in the opening half.

With three minutes left in the first half, the Flames facing a seven-point deficit (34-27), were able to hold the Highlanders scoreless the rest of the half, while the final four points of the first half. A Pacheco-Ortiz layup at the buzzer to close half allowed the visitors to take a 34-31 advantage into halftime. Pacheco-Ortiz ended the first half with a team-high nine points to go along with three rebounds, two assists and a steal.

Starting the second half, Liberty locked down defensively on Radford, forcing four turnovers during the first five minutes. The defense effort translated into Liberty taking the lead with 15:17 left in the game on two made free throws by Pacheco-Ortiz to complete a 6- run.

Both teams continued to exchange buckets after the run, as the game was tied four times over first 10 and a half minutes of the second half. Both teams saw success at the free-throw line during the early part of the period.

Offensive runs were hard to come by in the second half, but the Flames used a 4-0 spurt to take a 47-43 lead with 7:43 left in the game. However, Radford responded with six straight points to once again tie the game and take the lead.

Pacheco-Ortiz tied the game at 49-49 with two more made free throws with 4:51 remaining. The score remained the same until 2:03 when Ryan Kemrite was fouled during a three-point shot attempt. Kemrite made one of his three free-throws to give Liberty the 50-49 lead.

Liberty then made two stops on defense, while Pacheco-Ortiz made it 52-49 on a layup with a minute left. Reid’s free throws gave the Flames a 54-51 advantage with 11 seconds left, tying his career-high with four made free-throws in a game. After his buzzer-beater, Reid ended the game with nine points to go with three rebounds and three assists.

Liberty will head back on the road next week as they travel to North Carolina for a matchup against Gardner-Webb on Feb. 9.


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