After the Lady Flames defeated Radford 69-60 (see B2), the “Vines Furnace Center” turned into a “Panther Den” in the second game of the double-header as Liberty fell to the High Point Panthers 73-68.
The Panthers came into the game with the type swagger that the No. 1 team in the North division of the Big South Conference should play with. While Liberty fans watched silently, High Point’s bench players yelled and celebrated, claiming Liberty’s house as their own.
“They were a real physical team,” John Caleb Sanders said. “They are built. They got easy entries into their big men, who are the two best in the conference. We didn’t apply enough ball pressure to keep them from getting the ball.”
Winners of six games in a row, the Panthers controlled the game from inside the paint with forwards John Brown and Alex Chaney. The duo ultimately combined for 33 points and 19 rebounds.
Not only did High Point suck the life out of the Flames defense, but Brown, Chaney and the rest of the Panthers drained the entire arena of energy as they headed into the locker room at halftime up 35-24.
“We battled back, but we should’ve played that way for the whole 40 minutes,” Head Coach Dale Layer said. “They threw the first punch in the first half, and we were back on our heels.”
Liberty was able to stay in the game by going to the free-throw line. Sanders scored eight of his 23 points from the charity stripe, and as a team, the Flames were 23-29 (79.3 percent) from the line.
But the free-throw line would also become their Achilles’ heel heading down the stretch. The Flames missed three free throws with under five minutes to play.
Liberty has been not able to put back-to-back wins together since December, when they won a season-high three games in a row.
“You can’t overlook a team in the Big South,” Sanders said. “Anybody can beat anybody. Longwood has won two of their last three. They beat Winthrop and Radford, and they play good when they’re at home.”
With four games left in the regular season, Liberty looks to build momentum heading into the Big South tournament in March.