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Ellis, Adams Lead Liberty Past Gardner-Webb
Facing a three-point second-half deficit and 3,000-plus screaming elementary school students, Liberty pulled out a hard-fought 61-48 victory at Gardner-Webb on Thursday. Standout performances by Sadalia Ellis (15 points, 9 assists, 5 steals) and Katelyn Adams (12 points, 12 rebounds) helped the Lady Flames leave a raucous Paul Porter Arena victorious.
The host Runnin' Bulldogs fashioned a 20-4 surge spanning both halves, turning a 21-8 deficit into a 28-25 advantage with 18:59 remaining. Ellis then contributed four points, a steal and an assist during Liberty's ensuring 8-0 run, which put the Lady Flames on top for good.
Liberty improves to 17-6 overall and 13-1 in Big South play with its fifth straight win overall and eighth consecutive head-to-head victory over the Runnin' Bulldogs. The Lady Flames, who finished with a 53-34 rebounding advantage, have now held nine of 14 Big South opponents below the 50-point mark this season.
Conference-leading Liberty can clinch a first-round bye for the 2015 Big South Women's Basketball Championship if High Point defeats Presbyterian later this evening.
Despite a 16-point, 10-rebound, 4-block effort by Olivia Parker, Gardner-Webb's two-game winning streak came to a halt. The Runnin' Bulldogs drop to 9-14 overall and 5-9 in the Big South after shooting just 23.7 percent (14-of-59) from the field.
Simone Brown scored five points during the first two minutes of the game, helping Liberty jump out to a 9-0 lead at the outset.
The red-clad Lady Flames' advantage reached 13 (21-8) on a pull-up jumper by Ellis with 10:43 remaining in the opening half.
Gardner-Webb hit as many three-pointers (4) as Liberty scored points (4) during the remainder of the period, as the Runnin' Bulldogs closed the half on an 18-4 run. Olivia Parker's trifecta with 1:51 remaining sent the home team into halftime with a 26-25 edge.
Liberty shot just 32.3 percent (10-of-31) before halftime, while Gardner-Webb connected at a 29.6 percent (8-of-27) clip. However, five of the Runnin' Bulldogs' field goals came from three-point range.
The Lady Flames controlled the paint during the first 20 minutes, owning advantages in rebounds (28-16) and points in the paint (16-6).
Adams led the way for Liberty in the first half with six points and six rebounds. Parker had nine points, four boards and four blocks for Gardner-Webb.
Alexus Hill opened the second half with a layup for the Runnin' Bulldogs, closing out their run at 20-4 and giving them a 28-25 edge with 18:54 to play.
Liberty countered with the aforementioned 8-0 surge going in front, 33-28, on an Ellis steal and layup at the 15:20 mark.
Hill's triple pulled Gardner-Webb back within two (35-33) with 12:49 to play. However, the home team went more than four and a half minutes without making its next field goal, enabling the Lady Flames to bolster their advantage back to eight.
The Runnin' Bulldogs got no closer than six the rest of the afternoon. Liberty's lead eventually reached 15 on the way to victory. Gardner-Webb is now 19-6 at home during the past two seasons, with two of those setbacks coming at the hands of the Lady Flames.
Liberty, which scored 36 points in the paint, finished the game at 37.9 percent (22-of-58) from the field. The Lady Flames also hit 76.5 percent (13-of-17) of their free throw attempts.
More than half of Gardner-Webb's field goal attempts came from beyond the three-point arc, and the Runnin' Bulldogs hit just 7-of-31 for 22.6 percent. They also struggled at the foul line, shooting at a 59.1 percent (13-of-22) clip.
Aided by 21 offensive boards, Liberty outrebounded its 12th consecutive opponent.
Ellis, who scored 10 of her 15 points after halftime, has now reached double figures in four straight games for the first time in her career. The junior point guard equaled her career high with nine assists and paced all players with her five steals. Ellis has totaled 15 thefts in the last three games.
Adams' 12 points and 12 rebounds both set season highs. The double-double was her first of the year and the ninth of her career.
Brown grabbed a career-best 11 rebounds for the Lady Flames, while Gardner (nine points, eight rebounds) narrowly missed a double-double.
Emily Frazier scored all seven of her points after halftime for the victors.
Parker was one of three Runnin' Bulldogs to score in double figures. She was joined by Hill (10 points) and Candace Brown (10 points).
Liberty will return to the Vines Center for a Saturday evening clash with Coastal Carolina, set for a 7 p.m. tipoff. The Lady Flames recorded a 66-47 victory at Coastal Carolina on Jan. 8 for their 43rd consecutive win over the Chanticleers.