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Liberty Prevails in Defensive Struggle
Despite being limited to one made field goal in the final 13:13 of Saturday evening's Big South clash at the Vines Center, Liberty held off Gardner-Webb 56-47 with a staunch defensive effort and clutch free throw shooting.
The Lady Flames led 47-33 with 6:30 remaining before the Runnin' Bulldogs fashioned a 12-0 run. Alexus Hill scored six points during the surge, including two made free throws at the 2:49 mark which cut the deficit to 47-45.
The Lady Flames improve to 6-2 overall and 2-0 in the Big South with their fourth straight victory overall and its seventh consecutive win over Gardner-Webb. Liberty, which never trailed, was paced offensively by Simone Brown (15 points), Buer (12 points) and Ashley Rininger (10 points).
Gardner-Webb, playing the final contest of a season-long five-game road swing, falls to 3-6 on the season and 0-2 in conference play. The Runnin' Bulldogs were held to a season-low 23.1 percent (12-of-52) from the field on the evening.
The Lady Flames set the defensive tone from the get-go, holding Gardner-Webb without a made field goal for more than seven minutes to start the game, opening up a 9-1 advantage.
Liberty's lead eventually reached 19-7, on a mid-range jumper by Brown with 9:03 remaining in the opening half.
But the Lady Flames only made two field goals during the rest of the opening stanza. That drought enabled the Runnin' Bulldogs to pull within two (22-20) when a Jessica Heilig layup capped off a 13-3 surge, 1:47 before the intermission.
Emily Frazier's old-fashioned three-point play pushed Liberty's halftime lead back to five points, 25-20.
The Lady Flames made half of their first-half three-point attempts (4-of-8) but shot only 32.3 percent (10-of-31) from the field overall and made just 33.3 percent (1-of-3) from the line.
Gardner-Webb shot 23.1 percent (6-of-26) during the first 20 minutes, with half of its field goals coming from three-point range.
Led by Heilig's seven rebounds, the black-clad Runnin' Bulldogs won the first-half rebounding battle, 23-20.
Brown paced all players with eight points for the Lady Flames during the opening half.
Catherine Kearney tallied four points during an 8-0 Liberty surge, which built the Lady Flames' 47-33 advantage at the 6:30 mark of the second half. Her layup off of a nice bounce pass from Brown at 6:53 was Liberty's lone made field goal of the final 13:13.
Liberty finished the game at 32.1 percent (17-of-53) from the field and set season lows for points in the paint (16) and bench points (7). However, the Lady Flames hit 81 percent (17-of-21) of their foul shots and converted Gardner-Webb's 26 turnovers into 30 points.
Liberty finished with a slim, 41-40 rebounding edge and totaled 17 second-chance points.
Brown's game-high 15 points marked the junior's fourth straight game in double figures. She hit three triples and made all four of her foul shots. Brown has now hit 19 straight free throws, nearing the program record of 22 consecutive foul shots made, set by Jennifer Fairfax in 1991.
Buer scored in double figures for the eighth straight game to start her Liberty career with a dozen points and pulled down a season-high seven rebounds.
Katelyn Adams tied Buer for team-high honors with seven boards and blocked three shots.
Ellis came up with five steals for the second straight game and scored all four of her points at the foul line during the game's final 29.2 seconds.
Frazier's four points moved her onto Liberty's top 50 career scorers list with 547 markers.
Heilig led Gardner-Webb with 14 points and Hill added 10. Olivia Parker grabbed a game-high nine rebounds for the Runnin' Bulldogs.
Liberty will take to the road for the remainder of 2014, playing its next four games away from the Vines Center. The Lady Flames' road swing will first take them to NC State, Wednesday at noon inside Reynolds Coliseum.