The Liberty Flames were unable to overcome a second half run by the James Madison University (JMU) Dukes and stave off elimination from the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, losing 88-65 in a game that was much closer than the score indicated.
The tightly contested game featured 17 lead changes and 11 ties, but James Madison pulled away at the midway point of the second half thanks to a 19-5 spurt from which Liberty would not recover. The Dukes helped their own cause early and often in the contest, turning 17 Liberty turnovers into 24 points.
The first half featured back-and-forth action as Liberty was unable to muster more than a 4-point lead, which came with 14 minutes remaining in the first half. For every rally the Dukes mustered, senior Anthony Smith seemed to have an answer, pacing the Flames with 20 first half points while shooting 6-of-9 from the floor, including 3-of-5 from beyond the arc.
The Flames capped the first half with a 5-2 run to take a one-point lead, and it appeared the crowd of 2,068 was in for a contest set to go down to the wire.
Turnovers and missed opportunities were the story for the Flames in the second half, who turned in a 34 percent field goal percentage, including 2-13 from the three-point line in that span.
Liberty appeared to have no answer for JMU foreword Kyle Swanston, who registered a game-high 27 points, all of which came via the three-point field goal on 9-of-20 shooting overall.
After a Tyler Baker lay-up tied the score at 50 with 13:47 remaining in the second half, the Flames went nearly six minutes without a point from the floor and faced a 12-point deficit with just over six minutes to play. From there, the Dukes kept a firm grip on the lead as the Flames were unable to come within 10 of JMU, who outscored the Flames 55-31 in the second half.
Smith finished with 26 points in his last game with the Flames, a career-high. The only other player in double figures for Liberty was freshman Johnny Stephene, who tallied 16 points.
Liberty showed flashes of what is to come during its 2008-2009 campaign, improving from a 16-16 (7-7 Big South) record a year ago to 23-12 (12-6). Freshman Seth Curry finished the year 20th in the nation in scoring with an average of 20.6 points-per-game. The 21 Liberty victories is the second-most in team history, and ties for the most since the team entered Division I play 21 years ago.
Liberty will begin next season in search of its first Big South Conference Championship since 2004.