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Charlotte Comes Back to Defeat Liberty, 79-77
Visiting Charlotte used exceptional three-point shooting to erase an 11-point second-half deficit and defeat Liberty, 79-77, in both teams' 2014-15 season opener, Friday at the Vines Center.
The Lady Flames (0-1) led 43-32 with 18:10 to play before the 49ers made eight of their 10 three-point tries the rest of the way. Charlotte (1-0) then survived a potential game-tying attempt at the buzzer by Sadalia Ellis to record its 22nd straight win over a Big South opponent.
The 49ers' Lefty Webster scored 13 of her career-high 21 points during the final 3:54, including a jumper at the 2:22 mark which gave her team a lead it would never relinquish.
Liberty dropped its season opener for the third straight year and fell to 0-3 all-time against Charlotte despite putting four players in double figures. Ellis paced the team with 13 points, while Ashley Rininger notched her 20th career double-double with a dozen points and a game-high 11 rebounds.
Ellis scored Liberty's first points of the season on a driving left-handed layup 1:02 into the contest. However, Charlotte countered with three early triples, taking an 11-4 lead on Webster's trifecta at the 16:16 mark.
The Lady Flames chipped away at their deficit and eventually went back on top at 21-20 when Emily Frazier swished a three-pointer from the top of the key 6:43 before halftime.
The lead changed hands six times during the remainder of the period. Post players Rininger and Katelyn Adams closed the stanza with consecutive hoops for the Lady Flames, giving the home team a 37-32 halftime advantage.
Liberty shot well from both the field (44.8 percent, 13-of-29) and the foul line (80 percent, 8-of-10) during the first 20 minutes, while owning a 20-14 rebounding edge.
Charlotte connected on five of its nine three-point attempts for 55.6 percent and scored 14 bench points in the first half.
Ellis paced all players with 11 first-half points, while Jasmine Gardner grabbed six rebounds in her first half of play since March 10, 2013.
Webster and Kenya Olley scored six points each for the 49ers prior to the break.
The Lady Flames scored the first six points after the intermission, extending their overall surge to 10-0. They took their first double-digit lead of the night (43-32) on Rininger's layup at the 18:10 mark.
Charlotte connected on six straight field goal attempts midway through the half, pulling to within 60-55 on Amaya Ransom's trifecta at 10:13.
The 49ers went on top for good with a 12-2 run which culminated with a Webster triple that beat the shot clock buzzer. The sophomore's third and final long-distance connection of the evening made it 75-70 with 1:27 on the second-half clock.
Liberty still trailed by five (77-72) with 29.3 seconds left before nearly making an improbable comeback. Karly Buer hit a triple from the deep corner, Ellis hit a layup and the 49ers missed a pair of foul shots, opening the door for the Lady Flames.
After a missed free throw by Hillary Sigmon with 6.0 seconds remaining, Ellis went the length of the court but could not connect on a floater as the final buzzer sounded. As a result, Charlotte held on for a 79-77 win.
Liberty finished the game at 45 percent (27-of-60) from the field and 43.8 percent (7-of-16) from beyond the arc but made just 64 percent (16-of-25) of its free throw tries. Charlotte shot 53.1 percent (17-of-32) from the floor after halftime to finish at 48.4 percent (30-of-62). The 49ers made 72.7 percent (8-of-11) of its second-half triple tries to end up at 65 percent (13-of-20) on the night, falling just one three-pointer shy of the Vines Center single-game record.
The Lady Flames used their height advantage to win the battles of rebounds (41-31), points in the paint (36-26) and second-chance points (21-17). Charlotte came up with a dozen steals and scored 35 bench points to Liberty's 28.
Liberty's starting backcourt of Ellis and Frazier combined for 24 points, 10 assists, six rebounds and four steals. Ellis complemented her 13 points with five assists, while Frazier tallied 11 points, five assists and four rebounds, one day after her 24th birthday.
Rininger, who blocked a game-high three shots along with her double-double, became the 24th Lady Flame ever to grab 500 career rebounds. The redshirt junior finished the game with 508 career caroms.
Buer, making her Liberty debut after transferring from Missouri State, scored 10 points in 20 minutes off head coach Carey Green's bench.
For Charlotte, Webster added five rebounds and five steals to her scoring outburst. Ransom (14 points) and Sigmon (13 points) joined her in double digits, with Ransom sinking all four of her three-point attempts and Sigmon going 3-of-5 from long range.
Liberty will remain at home for a Tuesday matinee against VCU (1-0) of the Atlantic 10 Conference. The Lady Flames' third annual "Best Field Trip Ever Day" will tip off at noon inside the Vines Center.