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B-ball opens season with win
Redshirt senior Antwan Burrus scored on the opening possession for the reigning Big South champion Liberty Flames (1-0) in his first game since the 2011-12 season, leading the Flames to a 74-53 victory over the Randolph College Wildcats Nov. 7.
According to senior point guard Davon Marshall, who scored eight points and recorded five assists, the plan was to get Burrus, who missed last season due to a foot injury, involved on the first possession.
“We just wanted to get him going,” Marshall said. “I think everybody was happy to see him get a basket and get back out there. I wanted him to score 20 tonight, but it was good see him back and see him playing well.”
Despite the early boost with the return of Burrus, Liberty struggled to distance themselves from the Wildcats in the first half.
Liberty Head Coach Dale Layer attributed part of the Flames early struggles to the limited role of last year’s leading scorer John Caleb Sanders, who played just 10 minutes and had four points off the bench.
“His ankle surgery put him out a while and he tweaked his back,” Layer said. “We need him. We’re not the same without him.”
To start the game, Randolph jumped out to an early 7-4 lead, but Liberty responded with a 10-0 run, highlighted by five of junior forward’s Tomasz Gielo’s team-high 14 points.
However, Randolph managed to keep the Flames within striking distance, never trailing by more than 10 points during the first half.
Liberty went into the break with a 38-29 lead after a pair of free throws from Marshall with 0.6 seconds left in the half.
Early in the second half, the Flames struggled with turnovers. Liberty turned the ball over four times in the first three minutes, allowing Randolph to find its way back in the game.
The Wildcats cut the lead to four just 2:35 into the second half with a layup by Dylan Shiflett and a three pointer from Jason Eddie.
But with the score 42-38, the Flames finally took control of the game with a 19-3 run, pushing their lead to 61-41.
“(In the) second half, I thought we responded well,” Layer said.
During the run, junior Andrew Smith sparked the Flames off the bench with one of his two dunks.
“I’m trying to go up (for a dunk) every time,” Smith said. “And if I can’t, I’m trying to find a way up (for the dunk).”
Smith, who finished with 10 points and eight rebounds in just 16 minutes, also had two blocks, including a swat from behind on a breakaway layup.
“(A block is) a big momentum swing, just as a dunk can be,” Smith said. “It catches them off guard, because they’re thinking they’re getting an easy shot, and it ends up getting some of their players out of position and can start a fast break (for us).”
Liberty overpowered Randolph in the post throughout the game, outrebounding the Wildcats 39-27 and outscored Randolph 40-26 in the paint.
“(Post play) was a big point of emphasis,” Smith said.
Liberty will next be in action Tuesday, Nov. 12 as they travel to take on William and Mary.