Live and die by the three is the motto that the Liberty Flames (6-15, 2-5 Big South) and the Charleston Southern Buccaneers (12-6, 7-0 Big South) displayed Saturday, Jan. 26. While the Flames outshot the Buccaneers, Charleston Southern came out on top 79-75.
Down by three, Liberty guard Davon Marshall received a pass from guard John Caleb Sanders at the top of the key, with two seconds to go in regulation. Primed to tie the game with his eighth three, Marshall rose and released the ball while fading away from the bucket. Fans gasped for air as the ball twirled toward the cylinder, only to graze the right side of the rim and go out of bounds.
“We got two good looks down the stretch with (Tomasz Gielo’s) three and (Marshall’s) three, but they didn’t go in,” Head Coach Dale Layer said.
With under a second remaining, Marshall fouled Charleston Southern guard Saah Nimley. The 5’8’’ guard made one of two free throws and put the game out of reach.
The game boosted the Buccaneers eighth-straight win. They have also won 11 out of 12 games.
“(Charleston Southern is) the best team in the league, and they deserve it,” Layer said. “We are the most improved team. We were battling to stay in there, but we were three rebounds short of winning this game.”
Marshall and Nimley battled throughout the night, trading three-point baskets with each other. Both guards combined to nail 13 of the 21 total threes made by both teams.
“It was a fun battle for me,” Marshall said. “They told me coming in that he was one of the best point guards in the conference, so I was just up to that, ready to go at him.”
Charleston Southern, which leads the nation in three point shooting, went 10-25 (40.0 percent) from beyond the arc, while Liberty went 11-27 (40.7 percent).
Liberty opened the game on a 7-3 run thanks to guard Tavares Speaks, who made the Flames first field goal in the starting five minutes of the game. Speaks finished the first half, leading all scorers with 13 points.
“I just wanted to be aggressive,” Speaks said. “They were being aggressive on the offensive end early, so I tried to match their intensity.”
The Flames began the second half trailing, 41-38. Unable to convert on shots, Liberty was held scoreless for two minutes of the second half, while the Buccaneers jumped out to an eight-point lead. With 11:52 left in the game, Nimley drained a three from the top of the key to widen the gap to 62-53.
“I’m starting to feel it,” Nimley said as he back-peddled on defense.
“(Nimley is) a tough guy,” Speaks said. “He’s small and uses his body very well. He gets his teammates involved and is a very unselfish floor general, so he is a very good player.”
However, Nimley’s taunting lowered his awareness, leaving Marshall open, who responded and hit another three. A frustrated Nimley began to argue with the officials, which led to a technical foul. Marshall went to the line and hit both free throws, which cut the lead to four with 11:25 left.
With 8:30 to go in the second half, both teams traded three point baskets. In a span of 30 seconds, Liberty hit two three-point baskets and the Buccaneers hit one, cutting the visiting team’s lead to four.
The Buccaneers pushed their lead back up to eight with 6:21 left in the second half, leading Layer to call a timeout. When play resumed, Marshall hit another three.
On the defensive end, center Joel Vander Pol stole the ball and pushed the ball up the court to Sanders, who missed a jumper. Forward JR Coronado was able to grab an offensive rebound, but was fouled in the process.
After making the first shot, Coronado missed the second. However, Vander Pol gathered the ball and managed to put it in, cutting the gap to 74-72 with 4:55 left.
On their next possession down the court, Nimley continued to pressure the Flames defense, gathering two offensive rebounds off his missed shots. After dribbling back out, he released another three, but was blocked by guard Larry Taylor. Speaks gathered the ball and pushed it up the court to Sanders for a layup, tying the game at 74-74 with 4:00 to go.
The Sanders bucket was the last field-goal made by the Flames as they went on a four-minute drought to end the game.
Marshall finished the night with 23 points and four assists. Speaks had 15 points and four rebounds, while Sanders added nine points, five rebounds and four assists.
Charleston Southern had four players in double-figures, led by Nimley, who had 23 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
“(Nimley) took 23 shots. I think we did a pretty good job on him,” Layer said. “He’s probably the player of the year in the league, but we made it hard on him. He hit big shots and has a heart of a lion. I thought (Marshall) stood toe-to-toe with him.”
Liberty will host the Big South North leaders the Campbell Fighting Camels tonight at 7 p.m.