Highlanders overcome deficit

Anderson’s 19-point second half performance guides Radford late to spoil Liberty’s senior night, winning 87-83

With a double-digit lead midway through the second-half, the Liberty Flames (11-20, 5-11 Big South) hoped to roll into the Big South tournament with their third straight victory.

However, the Radford Highlanders (20-11, 10-6 Big South) late rally spoiled six Liberty seniors’ home finale with an 87-83 victory.

Throughout most of the first half, Liberty and Radford traded buckets with one another. A layup by Tomasz Gielo and a two-hand slam from Smith ignited a small run for the Flames.
With 4:26 remaining, Liberty had pushed their margin to five, and by halftime, they had a 40-34 lead.

Drive— Tomasz Gielo  attempts to go by defender. Photo credit: Leah Stauffer

Drive— Tomasz Gielo
attempts to go by defender. Photo credit: Leah Stauffer

In the first half, the Flames displayed a balanced offense, shooting 57 percent from the field and from three. Gielo ended the half with 12 points, and Marshall added eight points.

Although their shots were not falling, the Highlanders stayed in the game because of their pressure defense. They forced eight turnovers during the first half, which led to easy shots for forward Javonte Green.

Green dominated in the first, showing his paint presence and range offensively. By halftime, he led all scorers with 16 points and six rebounds.

At the beginning of the second half, Anderson began to heat up offensively. In four minutes of play, he knocked down two three pointers and a jumper, which gave the Highlanders a 46-44 lead. After taking a three-point lead with 13:15 left in regulation, Liberty began to make its run.

Despite struggling in the first half, guard John Caleb Sanders sparred the 16-5 run, drilling two consecutive threes. Forward Andrew Smith added an emphatic dunk during that stretch, giving Liberty a 73-61 lead.

Radford’s high-paced offense began to click with 7:39 remaining. However, after an 0-3 start from the field, guard Ya-Ya Anderson drained three three pointers from behind the arc. Guard R.J. Price also hit a three pointer, giving the Highlanders a 77-75 lead after a 16-2 run.

“(Anderson) knocked down big shots,” Head Coach Dale Layer said. “He hadn’t made any all game pretty much. … When they can get it going from the three-point line and bring it inside, that’s a pretty good combination. I thought we defended well for the most part, but not in the last six minutes.”

The Highlanders had an 83-80 lead with 28 seconds left in the second half. After advancing the ball up the court, forward Antwan Burrus was stripped by guard Rashun Davis. Radford nailed four free throws to seal the victory.

“We didn’t play well in the closing minutes, and that’s still our Achilles’ heel right now, but I think we played well, and we have confidence going into the tournament,”
Sanders said.

Along with Burrus and Sanders, senior guards Davon Marshall, Casey Roberts and senior centers Joel Vander Pol and JR Coronado made their final appearance in the Vines Center.

“They are great guys,” Layer said. “They put a lot of work in at Liberty University and for the basketball program in many ways, whether it was in the classroom or on the floor.

I’m extremely proud of them. I’m proud to have them go through our program. No matter what happens, this week they are going to carry a ring with them for the rest of their lives.”

Burrus had a team-high 19 points and eight rebounds, Sanders finished with 14 points, five rebounds and four assists. After combining for half of Liberty’s points in the first half, Marshall and Gielo only scored nine points combined in the second.

For Radford, Green finished with 25 points and 12 rebounds, and Anderson added 19 points (all in the second half) and went 5-10 from downtown. Davis scored 18 points off the bench.

Liberty earned the fifth seed in the Big South North division and will play the No. 4 seed Winthrop Eagles (17-10, 10-6 Big South) from the South division Wednesday, March 5 at noon in Conway, S.C.

“We’re playing good basketball,” Layer said. “We played a good team, had them on the ropes, but couldn’t finish, which is frustrating. I think we are playing the best ball of the year, so we’re excited to go to the tournament and see what we can get done.”

In the only match with the Eagles Feb. 4, the Flames lost 73-62.

“This was the issue last year, when our backs were against the wall, we figured it out,” Sanders said. “Right now, we have six guys that it will be their last game if
we lose.”

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