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Flames Fall Short in Near Comeback at Furman

December 20, 2013
|  Greenville, S.C.
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Joe Retic posted a season-high 16 points at Furman, Friday night.

After being down by 24 with 12:26 left in the second half, the Liberty men's basketball nearly pulled off the comeback, Friday night, at Furman. With six tenths of a second on the clock, Casey Roberts inbounded the ball to John Caleb Sanders with the chance to tie. However, Sanders was unable to grab hold of the rock, giving the Paladins the 86-83 victory inside Timmons Arena.

Stephen Croone led the Paladins early surge, finishing the contest with a career-high 40 points, including 23 in the first half. The sophomore concluded the night 11-of-16 from the field, 5-of-7 from three-point range and 13-of-21 at the line.

Antwan Burrus closed out the night with 19 points, followed by Joe Retic and Tomasz Gielo, who each had a season-high 16 points, apiece. Sanders rounded out the Flames' double-figure scorers with 15 points. The trio of Burrus, Retic and Gielo were instrumental in helping the Flames battle through adversity, combining for 38 points in the second stanza.

The Paladins concluded the contest shooting 56.3 percent (27-of-48), including 52.6 percent (10-of-19) from three-point range. Liberty shot 45.2 percent (28-of-62) on the night and 42.9 percent (9-of-21) behind the three-point arc.

Liberty jumped out to a 7-3 lead in the early moments. Davon Marshall set up the play to give the Flames the four-point edge, picking the pocket of Kendrec Ferrara and eventually dished it to Sanders, who finished with a layup on a 2-on-1 fast break. Croone, answered for the Paladins with five straight points, including a three-pointer to put the home team ahead by one. Retic regained the lead for Liberty on the other end, hitting an 18-foot baseline jumper over a Paladin defender, making it 9-8, at 13:48.

The three-pointers began to fly on both ends of the court with 10:33 left in the period. After a Croone trey gave Furman a one-point lead, Roberts responded with one of his own. A Paladin basket knotted the contest for the fifth time, but a Sanders three-point bucket put the Flames back on top. Charlie Reddick nullified the shot at the opposite end, tying the contest, 20-20, with a three-pointer at the 7:42 mark.

Another Sanders three-pointer gave the Flames a four-point lead with 6:36 left, but the Paladins proceeded to go on a 10-0 run, helping Furman outscore Liberty, 22-7, in the remaining minutes of the half. Croone posted 12 points during the span, capping the half with a three-pointer to give Furman a 43-32 halftime lead.

With his late-half burst, Croone finished the half with 23 points, hitting 7-of-7 from the field and 4-of-4 from three-point land. The sophomore also went 5-of-7 at the charity stripe.

Sanders paced the Flames with 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting and 3-of-4 from the three-point arc.

Furman shot 65.2 percent (15-of-23) in the first half, while holding Liberty to 38.5 percent (10-of-26). The Paladins hit 7of-11 three-pointers (63.6 percent) in the period, compared to 5-of-10 for the Flames.

The Paladins hot hand continued in the beginning of the second half. With under 16 minutes left in the contest, Furman went on a 15-0 run cemented by a William Gates trifecta. A Coronado layup prevented the Paladins from extending its lead further, making it 66-44 with 11:29 left.

Down by 19, the Flames began a 10-0 run with 8:19 remaining, kick started by Retic three-pointer. The sophomore later capped the burst with a three-pointer, cutting the deficit to nine, 70-61, with 6:24 on the clock.

Liberty used defense to whittle the deficit further. A big dunk off an inbounds steal by Burrus made it an eight-point game with just over four minutes left. Key plays by Gielo, Retic and Burrus down the stretch put Liberty within arm's length of the Paladins. A Burrus jumper cut it two with 39 ticks left, but after a Ferrara free throw, Furman hung on for the 86-83 final.

The Flames receive an eight-day break before returning to action, Saturday, Dec. 28. Liberty will host Southeastern (Fla.) at 5:30 p.m., with the contest streaming live on the Big South Network.