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Princeton Edges Liberty with Late-Game Burst
Despite sinking more three-pointers than the renowned Princeton offense, the Liberty men's basketball team came up short against the Tigers, Saturday afternoon, dropping an 80-74 decision inside the Vines Center.
With the defeat, Liberty ends the non-conference slate with a 6-9 record, while Princeton improves to 11-2 with a win in its first-ever game against the Flames.
Entering the game averaging just under six three-pointers made per contest, the Flames knocked down a season-high 10 treys, shooting 50.0 percent behind the arc and 53.1 percent (26-of-49) from the field. Princeton finished with 48.1 shooting (26-of-54), including 9-of-28 (32.1 percent) from three-point land, falling shy of its average of 10.5 three-pointers per game. After swishing seven three-pointers in the first half, the Tigers went just 2-of-15 (13.3 percent) from long distance in the second.
The Flames edged Princeton in rebounding, 29-26, marking the 10th straight game Dale Layer's squad has outrebounded its opponent. The Tigers held a slight advantage in the paint (32-30), but capitalized off turnovers, outscoring Liberty, 18-4.
John Caleb Sanders led all scorers with a season-high 25 points, while Tomasz Gielo chipped in a career-high 20 tallies. Davon Marshall climbed out of a slump in which he averaged 3.0 ppg in the last three contests, sinking four three-pointers and adding a free throw for 13 points.
T.J. Bray paced Princeton with 24 points, followed by Ben Hazel and Hans Braze, who posted 18 and 12 points, respectively.
Liberty jumped out to an early 4-0 lead thanks to layups from Sanders and Gielo. The Flames maintained their advantage until a pair of Bray free throws knotted the contest at the 13:21 mark. Spencer Weisz followed up with a three-pointer to put the Tigers on top just over a minute later. After Will Barrett capped a 15-0 Tigers run with another three-pointer, Gielo countered with one of his own at 9:27, making it 24-17 in favor of the visitors.
Sanders managed to make it a five-point game, sinking a layup with 4:14 remaining. However, the Flames could not climb any closer in the stanza, as Princeton carried a 38-31 advantage into the locker room at halftime.
Princeton displayed its three-point prowess in the first half, knocking down 7-of-13 (53.8 percent) long distance shots to finish with 52.2 percent shooting (12-of-23) in the period. Liberty concluded the opening 20 minutes shooting 50.0 percent (11-of-22).
Bray led all scorers at halftime with 16 points, while Sanders had 13 for Liberty.
The Flames gave Princeton a taste of its own medicine to begin the second half, sinking a trio of treys in the opening 3:18. Marshall contributed to all three long-range field goals, connecting on two, while dishing a slick baseline pass to Sanders for the other. Marshall's second three-pointer of the half pulled the Flames within one, 44-43, at 16:42.
Liberty reclaimed the lead 1:32 later, thanks to a Sanders layup, which kick started a 10-2 Flames run. Gielo highlighted the burst with five unanswered points, while Sanders added a free throw to extend the cushion to seven at 10:52. Princeton stormed back, erasing the deficit with a 9-2 surge. Seven unanswered tallies from Hazel tied the contest at 57 with 7:37 left.
Ethan Layer gave the Flames their final lead (67-66) with 2:54 left on the clock, knocking down a three-pointer to put Liberty up by one. Princeton responded with a 12-3 burst to lead by as much as eight in the closing minutes. Sanders capped Liberty's scoring with two free throws, but it was not enough, as the Tigers hung on for the 80-74 final.
Liberty begins the Big South Conference slate on Wednesday, traveling to Radford for a meeting with the Highlanders. Game time is slated for 7 p.m. with the contest airing live on the Liberty Flames Sports Network, MASN, ESPN3 and the Big South Network.