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Liberty Defeats Longwood for 15th Big South Title

March 10, 2013
|  Conway, S.C.
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Liberty earned its 15th Big South Championship title in the last 17 years with its 54-45 win over Longwood, Sunday afternoon.
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Strong defense and a dominating rebounding performance keyed No. 1 seed Liberty to its 15th VisitMyrtleBeach.com Big South Women's Basketball Championship title, Sunday afternoon at The HTC Center. The Lady Flames posted a +29 rebound margin and held No. 7 seed Longwood to 27.3 percent field goal shooting during their 54-45 victory.

The Lady Flames (27-6) captured their second straight Big South title and 15th crown in the last 17 years just hours after the Liberty men's basketball team also cut down the nets at The HTC Center following an 87-76 win over Charleston Southern. This is the second time in conference history that one school has swept the Big South men's and women's basketball titles in the same year, after Liberty accomplished the same feat in 2004.

The Lady Flames will learn their NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship destination, seed and first-round opponent on March 18 at 7 p.m. on ESPN.

Longwood's (14-19) improbable tournament run came to an end despite a 14-point, seven-rebound effort by Chelsea Coward. The Lancers won three games in four days, becoming the third No. 7 seed ever to reach the Big South women's final. Longwood was also picked 11th in the preseason Big South poll, prior to its initial season of conference play.

Devon Brown highlighted the Lady Flames' rebounding efforts with a game-high 13 caroms, to go along with five points and three steals. She was named tournament MVP for the second time in her career (also 2010), headlining the all-tournament team that also featured fellow seniors Tolu Omotola (game-high 16 points, 8 rebounds on Sunday) and Brittany Campbell (8 points), Coward and Campbell's Tonisha Baker.

Campbell and Omotola each hit three-pointers as Liberty opened up an 8-5 advantage during the first 3:08 of the contest.

Longwood's initial lead (10-8) came on a Mieke Elkington triple during the Lancers' ensuing 7-0 run. Chelsea Coward's bank shot at 14:53 gave Longwood at 12-8 edge.

Liberty held the Lancers to one made field goal during the next 10 minutes, going on a 15-2 run which gave the Lady Flames the lead for good. Freshmen Sadalia Ellis and Ashley Rininger combined to score 12 of those points, and a free throw by Jasmine Gardner put the Lady Flames in front, 23-14, with 6:18 remaining in the half.

Liberty still led by nine points before Khalilah Ali notched the last three points of a 5-0 Longwood run. Her pair of made free throws at 1:28 pulled the Lancers to within 27-23.

Devon Brown then closed out the first-half scoring with a putback hoop for her first points of the game, giving the Lady Flames a 29-23 halftime edge.

Made field goals came at a premium during the first 20 minutes, as Liberty hit only 32.4 percent (11-of-34) of its shots and Longwood connected at a 23.3 percent (7-of-30) clip.

The Lady Flames built their halftime edge due to a 33-15 rebounding edge and advantages in points in the paint (16-8) and bench points (14-5).

In fact, reserves Rininger (8 points) and Ellis (6 points) topped Liberty's first-half scoring chart while Gardner collected seven rebounds.

Erin Neal's seven points led Longwood during the opening half.

Tolu Omotola scored nine of Liberty's first 11 points to start the second half, including a layup off of a nice feed from Ellis at 13:25. The hoop gave the Lady Flames their first double-digit advantage at 40-29.

Campbell beat the shot clock buzzer with a three-pointer at the 11:50 mark, finishing off an 8-0 Liberty surge and boosting the Lady Flames' lead to 14 points (43-29).

The advantage eventually grew to 15 at 46-31 with 9:26 remaining. Liberty then prevented a Longwood comeback with staunch defense down the stretch. The Lancers managed only four made field goals the rest of the way, and the Lady Flames finished with a 54-45 triumph for their third win over Longwood this season and their 14th consecutive victory overall.

Liberty shot just 35.8 percent (19-of-53) from the field, 27.3 percent (3-of-11) from three-point range and 54.2 percent (13-of-24) from the foul line. But the Lady Flames prevailed, thanks in part to considerable edges in points in the paint (28-10), second-chance points (10-5) and bench points (20-11).

Longwood forced 24 Liberty turnovers but converted the miscues into just 11 points.

Omotola's 16 points marked her third straight game scoring in double figures at the tournament and pulled her to within 19 points of 1,000 for her career.

Fellow post player Rininger joined her in double figures, tallying 10 points and seven rebounds off the bench.

Campbell's two triples gave her a total of eight for the tournament in 14 attempts.

With starting point guard Reagan Miller mired in foul trouble for much of the day, Ellis played a career-high 31 minutes, contributing eight points and a game-high four assists.

Postgame Quotes
Liberty Head Coach Carey Green

"This past week has been an emotional roller coaster. It has been a thrill to be associated with this team and this senior class. They were determined to win a championship and we got that done today. We are going to enjoy this one for the next week.

"I want to congratulate a very good Longwood team. Teams want to get hot during March madness and Longwood did just that. They were playing their best basketball at the end of the season."

On the second half of play
"I don't think the team lost their composure at all. We didn't play well at times and turned the ball over and lost some rebounds. But Tolu Omotola and Devon Brown showed great leadership. We were able to weather the runs that Longwood made and come away with a championship."
Longwood Head Coach Bill Reinson
"First off, congratulations to Liberty and head coach Carey Green. Coach Green runs a great program at Liberty and they played tremendous, fundamentally sound basketball all season long. Secondly, we are playing on Sunday in the championship game. We were picked to finish 11th in the league's preseason poll and we proved we were much better than that this season."

On playing four games in five days
"Other than some shots not falling, I don't think playing four games in five days had much impact on us. We played hard today. We were not tired and I don't believe anyone can question the effort of this team today."
Big South All-Tournament Team
Devon Brown – Liberty (MVP)
Tolu Omotola – Liberty
Brittany Campbell – Liberty

Chelsea Coward – Longwood
Tonisha Baker - Campbell