Liberty pulls out win over Gardner-Webb

libertyLiberty (11-9, 6-1 BSC) remains in a tie for first place in the Big South Conference after a gritty 65-62 win over Gardner-Webb (10-10, 3-4 BSC) Thursday evening, in the Vines Center.

John Dawson and Ryan Kemrite combined for 40 points to lead the Flames, each scoring 20 in the victory. The Flames pulled out their third win of the season after trailing at halftime, aided by shooting 50.0 percent from three-point range during the second half (6-of-12).

“That is a good team (Gardner-Webb) and I knew it was going to be hard,” head coach Ritchie McKay said. “We were disjointed on offense and we weren’t pretty defensively, but we reeled it in and got a hard fought victory.”

Dawson and Kemrite combined to shoot 68.7 percent (11-of-16) from the floor while the defense forced 10 turnovers in a thrilling come-from-behind win over the Bulldogs. The Flames held the lead over the Bulldogs for only 10 minutes and 44 seconds of the game, while GWU held the lead for nearly 25 minutes.

Gardner-Webb came into tonight’s game averaging 75.4 points per game during conference season. The Flames held GWU to its second lowest point total in conference play this season, while forcing 19 turnovers. Liberty also limited the Bulldogs to 20.0 percent (2-of-10) from the three-point line. Gardner-Webb’s Tyrell Nelson finished with a game-high 22 points.

“We didn’t just get this win tonight. It was preparation through practice and we continue to grind each and every day,” Dawson added. “We won this game because of the preparation we have been putting in prior totonight. Guys are taking care of their bodies and doing the right thing off the court and it has a big part to do with our success.”

To start the game, Gardner-Webb was efficient on offense, making its first five field goals with eight of those points coming in the paint. The great start helped GWU jump out to an early 13-5 lead that also included an 8-0 run over six minutes.

After the Bulldogs jumped out to the eight-point lead, Liberty then tightened up on defense, holding Gardner-Webb scoreless for nearly three minutes to come within five points (13-10) midway through the first. Clean play dominated the first half as a free throw wasn’t attempted until nine minutes into the game and just two fouls were called during the first 10 minutes of play.

As the Flames looked to apply pressure on defense, they succeeded with four steals and with 7:21 left in the first half, Dawson tied the game (15-15) to erase the Bulldog’s early advantage. Liberty took its first lead of the game at the 5:20 mark of the first half off a Lovell Cabbil three-pointer and A.C. Reid assist to put them up 20-17.

After holding the lead for nearly 15 minutes in the first half, Gardner-Webb quickly retook the lead as Nelson hit a layup with 1:27 left before the break, aiding in his 10 first-half points.

Dawson filled the stat sheet during the first half, tying for a team high seven points, three rebounds and two assists with Liberty going into halftime trailing Gardner-Webb, 30-27. The Bulldogs dominated the paint during the first half, outscoring Liberty 24-10 in the first half. For the fourth straight conference game, the Flames were able to limit their opponent to 30 points or less during the first half. Both teams struggled from the free throw line, combining to go 6-of-15 from the charity stripe.

Neither team could find its shooting touch out of the gate in the second half on offense as a combined six points were scored during the first three and a half minutes. Looking to cut into Gardner-Webb’s lead, Liberty used the three-point shot to get back into the game with four straight threes’ by Reid, Dawson and Kemrite. After a few makes from beyond the arc, Kemrite gave Liberty the lead with an old fashioned three-pointer with a layup plus the foul to put the Flames up 47-44 for its first lead of the second half at the 9:17 mark.

Making an impact off the bench during the second half was Reid who scored all eight of his points during the last 20 minutes of play. Once Liberty grabbed the lead, it continued to shoot the three with Kemrite hitting his second trey of the second half to put Liberty up 56-48 at 5:28. Looking to secure the win, the Flames locked up on defense, not allowing Gardner-Webb to score for 2:22 as Liberty held a four-lead (60-56) with two minutes left in the game.

The Bulldogs cut Liberty’s lead to just two points with a minutes left (60-58) and Nelson went to the free throw line with a chance to tie game after being fouled. With 50 seconds left in regulation, Nelson would make both free throws to tie the game.

Liberty answered back with a pair of free throws of its from Dawson to take a 62-60 lead and GWU was unable to tie the game as Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz forced a turnover to send Liberty back to the charity stripe. Kemrite would also make his free throws to extend Liberty’s lead to 64-60.

Gardner-Webb once again cut the lead to two, 64-62, after a pair of free throws with 12 seconds left, but Dawson converted for a three-point lead to give Liberty the victory.

The Flames now turn its attention to Saturday’s matchup against Winthrop (14-4, 6-1 BSC) as both teams are tied for first place in the Big South. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at the Vines Center, in a battle between the top two teams in the conference. It will be a Whiteout at the Vines Center with 3,000 t-shirts available for all fans in attendance.

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