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Liberty Stifles High Point in 64-47 Win
Liberty's stifling defensive effort keyed a 64-47 victory over High Point in a battle between the Big South Conference co-leaders, Saturday afternoon at the Vines Center.
Defending Big South regular-season champion High Point (7-6, 3-1 Big South) had won eight straight regular-season conference games before Saturday. However, the Panthers were limited to season-lows for both points (47) and field goal percentage (21.1 percent on 12-of-57). Kaylah Keys and Stacia Robertson entered the game as the Big South's two leading scorers this season, but totaled just 18 points on 5-of-28 field goal shooting against the Lady Flames.
Liberty (8-5, 4-0 Big South) is now in sole possession of first place in the Big South standings after defeating the Panthers at the Vines Center for the first time since Feb. 5, 2011. Winthrop sits one-half game behind the Lady Flames at 3-0.
Ashley Rininger led the way for the Lady Flames, pacing all players in points (13), rebounds (career-high 20) and blocked shots (4).
Liberty used a 12-0 run to open up a 20-5 advantage on Rininger's putback hoop at the 10:45 mark of the first half.
Simone Brown's triple capped off an 8-0 Lady Flames surge later in the half, giving Liberty a 32-14 cushion 3:12 before halftime.
High Point then scored the period's final six points, trimming its deficit to 32-20 at the break.
After making nine of its first 11 field goal attempts to start the game, Liberty ended the first half at 40.6 percent (13-of-32). Meanwhile, the Panthers made only 25 percent (7-of-28) of their field goal tries during the first 20 minutes.
Liberty pulled down 26 first-half rebounds to High Point's 17 and tallied 18 points in the paint.
Rininger controlled the paint early on, finishing the first half with eight points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots.
Keys led the Panthers with seven points in the first half but hit just two of her nine shot attempts from the field.
High Point's Lindsay Puckett opened the second-half scoring with a triple, extending her team's overall run to 9-0 and pulling the Panthers within 32-23 at 18:32.
But that's as close as High Point would get, as Katelyn Adams halted the visitors' surge with a layup on Liberty's next trip to the offensive end.
Later in the half, Adams scored five straight points to close out a 10-0 Liberty run. That included an old-fashioned three-point play with 8:53 on the clock which gave the Lady Flames their largest lead of the day (52-28).
High Point battled back and got to within 13 (60-47) during the final minute, before the Lady Flames closed out a 17-point victory.
Liberty shot 42.9 percent (24-of-56) from the field for the game, aided by 34 points in the paint.
The Lady Flames controlled the interior throughout the game, as evidenced by their 52-34 rebounding advantage and eight blocked shots.
Rininger became the first Lady Flame to grab 20 or more rebounds since March 10, 2012, when Avery Warley pulled down 22 boards against Charleston Southern in the Big South Championship. The Buckeye State native's previous high for rebounds was 15, achieved against Radford on Dec. 7, 2013.
Rininger, who is averaging 16.5 rpg in her last two games and 4.7 bpg over her last three outings, notched her second straight double-double and her fifth of the season. She now ranks fifth in program history with 24 career double-doubles.
Fellow post player Adams scored seven of her season-high 11 points after halftime, while Karly Buer reached double digits for the fourth straight game with 11 markers of her own.
Sadalia Ellis topped all players with seven assists for the Lady Flames.
Keys scored a team-high 11 points for the Panthers but made only four of her 18 field goal attempts on the afternoon. Robertson shot just 1-of-10 but contributed seven points, a team-high eight rebounds and three steals.
Liberty will now prepare for a Monday evening home contest against Presbyterian (7-6, 2-2 Big South). Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. at the Vines Center for a clash between the Lady Flames and the defensive-minded Blue Hose, who rank third nationally in points allowed (47.8 ppg).