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Liberty Escapes with Win at Western Carolina

December 31, 2012
|  Cullowhee, N.C.
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Flames guard Tavares Speaks

The Liberty men's basketball closed 2012 with its third straight win, defeating Western Carolina, 63-62.

With the Flames trailing by one with five seconds on the clock, the Catamounts called a timeout with none left, leading to a technical foul on the home team. The infraction sent Tavares Speaks to the foul line, where he connected on both free throws. Liberty stopped Western Carolina on the next possession to earn their first victory over a Division I opponent, this season.

Liberty moves to 4-10 on the year despite committing a season-high 24 turnovers. The Flames' miscues are the most in exactly two years. Liberty committed 25 turnovers in a 64-62 overtime win at Gardner-Webb, on Dec. 31, 2010.

The Catamounts fall to 4-9 overall. The Flames now lead the all-time series between the two teams, 2-1.

Speaks led Liberty with 13 points. Tomasz Gielo and Flames' leading scorer Davon Marshall chipped in 10 tallies. Gielo also garnered Liberty's fourth double-double of the season, grabbing a career-high 11 rebounds.

John Caleb Sanders and Joel Vander Pol each recorded nine points. Vander Pol also swatted a career-high four blocks, the most by a Flame, this season.

Entering the contest averaging over 16 points, Trey Sumler lived up to the billing, pacing the Catamounts with 23 points.

In the early going, Speaks found Marshall open on a 2-on-1 fast break layup to put the Flames up by three. The Catamounts countered with four answered points to take the lead. Joel Vander Pol then put Liberty back on top with a traditional three-point play. Once again, Western Carolina responded, this time connecting on a pair free throws and a Sumler three-pointer. The trey put the Catamounts ahead, 15-12, at 9:03.

With Western Carolina still holding a three-point lead at the 3:24 mark, the Flames closed out the period with a 10-0 run to carry a seven-point lead into the locker room. Speaks highlighted the surge with four points, including a thunderous fast break jam, ultimately putting Liberty up, 29-22, at halftime.

Turnovers were kind to the Catamounts in the first half, as Western Carolina converted 12 Liberty turnovers into 15 points. On the other end, the Flames benefited from the foul line, hitting 10-of-13 shots from the charity stripe.

Sumler and James Sinclair each had seven points in the first half. Speaks paced Liberty with six tallies in the opening period, followed by JR Coronado and Casey Roberts, who each had five points.

In the second half, Marshall put the Flames ahead by nine with a three-pointer at 13:32. The Catamounts answered with a 9-2 to cut their deficit to two. Preston Ross capped the burst with an authoritative tomahawk jam off the fast break.

Liberty then posted four answered points to boost its lead to six. On the next Western Carolina possession, Sumler capitalized on a four-point play, draining the three-pointer and hitting the foul shot, cutting it to two again. The Flames denied the Catamounts the chance to tie, scoring six straight markers, including a huge Gielo three-pointer, giving Liberty a 51-45 advantage at 7:11.

Liberty led by as much as seven with 3:27 remaining, but an 8-0 run put the Catamounts up by one with 58 ticks left. With Western Carolina holding a four-point lead with 10 seconds left, John Caleb Sanders drove to the basket, connecting on a layup and following up with a free throw after a foul. Speaks then cemented the win, sinking both free throws for the 63-62 final.

The Flames shot 44.4 percent (20-of-45) from the field, while holding Western Carolina to 37.1 percent (23-of-62). The Catamounts outscored the Flames 32-13 off turnovers. Liberty finished the night with its best free throw percentage of the season, hitting 18-of-22 (81.8) shots from the foul line.

Liberty returns to the Vines Center on Saturday, opening the 2012-13 Big South Conference slate against two-time defending champion UNC Asheville. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. and is the second half of a double header, featuring a women's contest between the Lady Flames and UNC Asheville at 3 p.m.