The Liberty Flames Men’s Basketball team prevailed in a defensive struggle over the High Point University Panthers at the Vines Center on Saturday, pulling out a 55-51 victory.
Defense was prevalent from the very beginning for both teams, as the first possession for each team ended with a blocked shot. The Flames then put together a 9-0 run and held the Panthers scoreless for the first part of the contest.
High Point committed three consecutive turnovers on their first three possessions and did not score until 11:56 left to go in the first half. The Panthers went on a short run to bring the score to 13-7 with 7:46 remaining in the half. Senior guard Mike Jefferson scored five of the Panthers first nine points.The Flames built a 10-point lead on sophomore B.J. Jenkins’ three-pointer to put the score at 22-12. High Point answered, though, cutting the lead to two with 28.4 seconds left in the half. Senior forward Arizona Reid scored on a layup before the buzzer sounded to knot the score up at 25.
Liberty started hot but cooled off, shooting 10-for-25, good for 40 percent. High Point could not throw it in the ocean early on but recovered to shoot 9-for-24 for 37.5 percent.
In the second half Liberty tried to pull away, but High Point would not go away quietly. Freshman guard Jeremy Anderson hit a three-pointer to extend the Liberty lead to 41-34. Defensively, coach McKay switched it up to help contain Reid. It worked, and in addition to the inside dominance of senior forward Alex McLean, the Flames built a 42-34 lead with 10:27 left in the game.
McLean did not make every shot he attempted inside, but his drop-steps and pump fakes were enough to draw fouls from High Point’s big men, especially Reid.
The Panthers were not to be outdone and clawed back to cut the deficit to four at 44-40. After a Reid free throw, Jefferson hit a three-ball to tie the game at 44.
Anderson knocked down another critical long ball to put the Flames up 49-47 with 4:12 remaining. High Point answered, and another bucket from Reid put the Panthers up 49-47. Jenkins then hit a big-time trey, which put Liberty up 50-49.
After one more McLean free throw put Liberty up 51-49, High Point turned to Reid, who penetrated and drew a foul.
Reid sank both free throws, knotting the score at 51. On the next possession, McLean grabbed another critical offensive rebound and was fouled by High Point freshman David Campbell. McLean calmly knocked down the two free throws giving Liberty the 53-51 lead.
The Panthers tried to score, but the Liberty defense caused sophomore center Cruz Daniels to mishandle a pass from Jefferson. On the ensuing inbounding play, Bannister saw a streaking Jenkins and delivered a perfect baseball pass for a layup, sealing the deal for the Flames 55-51.
Liberty was victorious despite a 19-for-50 shooting night, or 38 percent. They also shot 38 percent from behind the arc. High Point shot 18-for-50, good for 36 percent, while shooting 5-for-23 from downtown (21.7 percent).
McLean notched his eighth double-double of the year with 18 points and 10 boards. Jenkins put in 12 points and Bannister finished with 10 points and four assists.
Reid exploded for 25 points, and Jefferson tallied 13 points and six assists. The Flames travel to Radford to face the Highlanders on Feb. 2. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
Contact Jeff Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org.