Liberty women top Radford

Liberty started its New Year’s Eve celebration a few hours early by opening its Big South Conference schedule with a hard-fought 76-68 win at Radford Saturday afternoon. The Lady Flames used a 16-0 run early in the second half to break open a close game, and held off several rally attempts by the Highlanders down the stretch at the Dedmon Center.

The Lady Flames, who leveled their overall record at 6-6, start the Big South schedule at 1-0 for the 11th time in the last 12 years. Liberty, which put four players in double figures in the scoring column, shot a season-best 60.5 percent (26-of-43) from the field for the contest.

Radford drops to 6-6 overall and 0-1 in conference play, despite forcing 39 Liberty turnovers and turning the miscues into 42 points. It was the fifth straight season the Lady Flames have posted a win inside the Dedmon Center.

Liberty made its first five field goal attempts of the afternoon, including a trio by Devon Brown. Brown’s jumper from just inside the three-point arc gave the Lady Flames a 10-2 lead at the 15:45 mark of the opening half.

Radford answered with a 12-2 surge, taking its first lead of the contest (14-12) when Ayana Avery swished a three-pointer from directly in front of the Liberty bench with 12:15 left in the stanza.

The Lady Flames scored the game’s next eight points, posting a 20-14 advantage 8:56 before the half when Reagan Miller’s three-pointer from the right wing tickled the Dedmon Center twine.

The Highlanders pulled to within one, 20-19, on a triple of their own at the 8:17 mark. This one was Ashley Buckhannon’s second of the opening period.

Liberty got its lead back to eight at 34-26 just 88 seconds before the intermission, when Avery Warley scored from close range.

However, Buckhannon scored the last five points of the half, including an old-fashioned three-point play at the 7.7-second mark which made the halftime score 34-31 in favor of Liberty.

Liberty shot the ball well from the field in the first half, making 56 percent (14-of-25) of its field goal tries. Radford ended the half at 41.4 percent (12-of-29).

The Lady Flames owned an 18-11 first-half rebounding edge, but committed 22 turnovers which led to 21 of Radford’s 31 points.

Individually, Brown paced the Lady Flames with 10 points in the opening half. Warley led the blue-clad visitors in both rebounds (5) and blocked shots (3).

Buckhannon scored 18 points for Radford, leading all players in the opening 20 minutes. Meanwhile, Sarah Tabb accounted for five of the home team’s 14 first-half steals.

Radford tied the score at 34 apiece on its first possession of the second half, when Katherine Brockett swished a three-pointer from the top of the key off an inbounds pass.

Liberty then posted its decisive 16-0 spurt, spanning four minutes. Miller’s triple from in front of her own bench with 14:33 left made the score 50-34, Lady Flames.

The Lady Flames maintained a double-digit advantage before Radford’s Da’Naria Erwin Spencer spearheaded a late rally effort. The preseason All-Big South performer had not scored a point until she canned a baseline jumper with 4:55 to play. She then scored the next eight points of the Highlanders’ 12-2 run. Buckhannon’s steal and ensuing layup narrowed the deficit to eight, 68-60, at the 1:51 mark.

Radford would twice close the gap to a half dozen points, but Liberty withstood the Highlanders’ furious charge with a strong performance at the foul line. The Lady Flames scored their last 13 points of the game from the charity stripe and shot 7-of-8 from the line during the final minute of their 76-68 win.

The Lady Flames shot exceptionally well in all areas during the final 20 minutes, making 66.7 percent (12-of-18) of their field goals, half (2-of-4) of their three-point tries and 72.7 percent (16-of-22) of their foul shots.

For the game, Liberty ended up at 73.1 percent (19-of-26) from the free throw line, while Radford only attempted six foul shots and made four for a 66.7 percent clip.

Radford shot 41.4 percent (29-of-70) overall on the afternoon, including six triples.

Liberty wrapped up the contest with a 41-23 rebounding advantage, after nearly doubling up its host (23-12) after halftime.

Both teams were active defensively, as Radford tallied 25 steals and Liberty posted 14 steals and equaled a season high with seven blocked shots.

Liberty’s 39 turnovers equaled the program’s most since joining the NCAA Division I ranks. The Lady Flames also committed 39 miscues against UNC Asheville on Jan. 13, 1996.

Brown led Liberty’s scoring parade with 19 points, giving the redshirt junior 1,080 career markers. That puts her in 12th place in program history, just two points ahead of Brenda Gunsallus.

Also climbing record lists was Warley, who posted her fourth double-double of the year with 14 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. Warley, who also tied her career high with four blocks, passed Ginny Holloway for sixth place in program history with 1,193 career points. She also bolstered her career rebounding total to 1,031, just two behind Katie Feenstra’s program record of 1,033 caroms.

Miller chipped in 16 points, 11 of which came after halftime. Just one day before her 21st birthday, LaKendra Washington added 11 points, highlighted by a trio of three-pointers.

Danika Dale nearly made it five Lady Flames in double figures, closing the outing with nine points, five rebounds, three assists, three steals and two rejections.

For Radford, Buckhannon tied her career high with 25 points and added five steals. Erwin Spencer scored all 12 of her points during the game’s final five minutes.

Victoria Hamilton’s seven rebounds paced the Highlanders, while Tabb corralled a matching number of steals.

Liberty will open the calendar year 2012, and the home portion of its Big South Conference schedule, Jan. 7 inside the Vines Center. That evening at 7 p.m., the Lady Flames will play host to High Point in a matchup between the top two teams in the Big South preseason poll.

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