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Flames Fall in NCAA First Four, 73-72
Game Highlights from NCAA.com
Liberty's hopes at its first-ever NCAA Tournament win nearly came to fruition, Tuesday night, inside UD Arena. Squaring off with North Carolina A&T in an NCAA First Four matchup, the Flames had a chance to garner the game-winning shot.
After a missed foul shot by the Aggies, the ball eventually wound up in the hands of John Caleb Sanders, who cut to the basket and attempted a layup. However, the shot fell short of the mark, allowing North Carolina A&T to advance to the second round, 73-72.
Davon Marshall led the Flames with 22 points, tying former Liberty player David Dees for the most points by a Flame in an NCAA Tournament game. Marshall's point total included six three-pointers, allowing him to surpass Seth Curry's Liberty record for most three-pointers in a single season with 107.
John Caleb Sanders finished the night with 21 tallies. The Sugar Land, Texas native became the 23rd member of Liberty's 1,000-point club, joining his older brother Jesse to become the first pair of brothers in the exclusive group. Needing eight points to reach the milestone, Sanders achieved the mark with 8:59 left in the first half after knocking down his third consecutive three of the night. Sanders concludes the year with 1,014 career points.
Tavares Speaks rounded out Liberty's trio of double-digit scorers, garnering 17 points. The Raleigh, N.C., native concludes his career 29th all-time in scoring at Liberty with 801 points.
Jeremy Underwood paced the Aggies with 19 points off the bench, followed by Bruce Beckford (16) and Lamont Middleton.
North Carolina A&T shot 51.9 percent (27-of-52) from the field, compared to 42.6 (23-of-54) for the Flames. The Aggies edged Liberty in points in the paint (26-22) and in rebounding (33-30). Liberty went 10-of-23 (43.5 percent) from three-point range and 16-of-18 (88.9 percent at the foul line. However, the Aggies held a considerable advantage off the bench, outscoring the Flames, 21-1.
The Aggies lit up the scoreboard first, but Liberty responded with a 9-0 run off two buckets by two Speaks jumpers, a Marshall three-pointer and a JR Coronado layup. North Carolina A&T answered with seven straight points to close the gap to one at 15:38. Sanders prevented the Aggies from taking the lead with a three-point basket. Speaks followed up with a steal on the next possession and converted it into a fast break layup, giving the Flames a 14-8 advantage at 14:17.
North Carolina A&T erased the deficit with a 10-2 burst, capping the run with five straight points from Jeremy Underwood to take a one-point lead. Sanders countered on the other end with a trey to reclaim the edge for Liberty. After a pair of Lamont Middleton free throws, Sanders knocked down another three-point jumper to put the Flames ahead by two. The Aggies answered with a 10-0 run cemented by Underwood's second three-pointer of the game to take a 30-22 at 7:09.
With the Aggies up by 11, Marshall began to find his range from long distance. The junior hit his record breaking trifecta with 4:56 on the clock. The Niagara Falls, N.Y., native followed up with another three-pointer 55 ticks later to pull the Flames within five. Liberty was unable to climb any closer before the halftime buzzer, as the Aggies outscored Liberty, 4-2, in the remainder of the period to take a 40-33 into the locker room.
North Carolina A&T shot 57.7 percent (15-of-26) from the field in the opening stanza, holding Liberty to 42.2 percent (11-of-26). The Aggies outpointed the Flames in the paint, 10-6, but Liberty edged the MEAC member from long range, 18-15.
Marshall paced the Flames with 11 points at the half, followed by John Caleb Sanders with 10. North Carolina A&T's Beckford led all scorers with 10 tallies.
In the second half, Marshall ignited a two-minute back-and-forth scoring barrage with a fast break layup at 15:50, cutting Liberty's deficit to one. A Middleton three-pointer gave the Aggies a four-point cushion, but Andres Smith wowed the Dayton crowd on the next Flames' possession, slamming home an alley-oop dunk off a Sanders' pass.
Undeterred by the highlight reel jam, Middleton nailed another trey extend the Aggies lead to five at 15:03. A Sanders' layup at 14:49 cut the lead to three. Following a fast break jumper by Powell, Marshall's made it a two-point game with another three-pointer. Beckford connected on a layup to up the Aggies lead before Marshall hit his fifth three-pointer of the game to make it a one-point affair, 52-51, at 13:41.
The Aggies began to pull away again in the ensuing minutes, going on a 9-0 run off baskets by Witter, Underwood and a Powell three-pointer. Sanders halted the scoring surge at 7:53 with a traditional three-point play to make it 61-54 at 7:53.
North Carolina A&T led by seven with just over three minutes left when Liberty began to mount its comeback. Sanders fourth three-pointer of the game put the Flames within four tallies. After a pair of Underwood free throws, Marshall's sixth and final trey of the night closed the gap to three with 1:32 left. A Speaks layup then made it a one-point difference, ultimately setting up the 73-72 final.
Just proud to be around these guys every day. A lot of grown men would not have endured what they did. A lot of well-meaning grown men would not have handled what they handled.
No regrets. I'm very proud of them. I've been around college basketball since 1976, as a player, as a coach, and I've never experienced a year like this. The depths of this year were the most in those 37 years. And when guys overcome what they have overcome as 18-20 year old kids, wow, I'll take that. We were tested.
You don't know how you're tested until you're in a locker room with those kids. They were tested. I was tested. But I think these guys' character has come through like gold. I'm proud of them.
The season started out bad for us, 0-8. We were struggling a lot with injuries and everything. We overcame that. We kept fighting every day in practice. We kept praying, kept working hard, kept believing in Coach and what he was telling us.
I'm just proud of my teammates that we made it this far and fought this hard.
John Caleb Sanders
We came this far, and it hurts to go down like that. When it comes down to the end of the year, one team is going to lose. Like Coach said, I'm proud of [Tavares Speaks] and Davon and all the guys in the locker room. I'm sorry for Trap. I wanted to make that shot for him, prolong his senior year so we can go down to Louisville, and that's tough.
Again, I'm just so proud of Coach and how he handled this whole season with all the adversity and all the players for sticking to it.
Alumni, fans, Liberty cheerleaders and the pep band prepared for Tuesday's game at Milano's in Dayton.
A large number of students gathered in the Vines Center to watch the game on the video board.