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Liberty Knocks Off Big South-Leading Asheville, 71-53
Liberty used a stifling defensive effort, an efficient shooting performance and another big night from Catherine Kearney (career high-equaling 22 points, 9 rebounds) to hand UNC Asheville its first Big South loss, 71-53, Monday evening at the Vines Center.
Averaging a conference-high 74.5 ppg coming into the game, Asheville was held to 14 first-half points and 28.6 percent (20-of-70) field goal shooting on the night. Conversely, Liberty set season highs for field goal percentage (58.1 percent, 25-of-43) and three-point field goal percentage (54.5 percent, 6-of-11), moving into a tie with the Bulldogs for the Big South lead.
Kearney, who recorded her third 20-point game in the last four outings, shot 11-of-12 from the field. The redshirt senior's effort helped Liberty improve to 7-7 overall and 4-1 in the Big South. The Lady Flames notched their fourth straight victory overall and their 16th consecutive home win over a Big South opponent.
Asheville falls to 11-3 overall and 4-1 in Big South play despite 16 points from reigning Big South Player of the Week Chatori Major. However, leading scorer Tianna Knuckles was held to three points on 1-of-13 shooting and the Bulldogs lost at the Vines Center for the ninth straight season.
Mickayla Sanders picked up where she left off during her 21-point performance at Radford on Saturday, scoring five points during the first 2:06 to get Liberty started. The Lady Flames shot 57.1 percent as a team during the opening quarter, including three triples, building a 19-6 lead through 10 minutes.
Jaymee Fisher-Davis hit a pair of three-pointers early in the second quarter, including one which pushed Liberty's advantage to 27-8, 5:34 before halftime. UNC Asheville responded with two triples of its own, pulling to within 27-14 on Major's trifecta at the 3:47 mark.
Liberty then scored the half's final five points, taking a 32-14 lead into halftime. The Lady Flames shot 46.4 percent (13-of-28) from the field in the first half, highlighted by 55.6 percent (5-of-9) from three-point range. Meanwhile, Asheville hit only four of its 27 field goals for 14.8 percent.
The Lady Flames continued the defensive pressure in the second half, holding Asheville to four points during the first 6:52. As a result, Liberty was able to bolster its lead to 44-18 on a Kearney layup off of a nice feed from Brooke Alexander at 3:47 of the third quarter.
However, Asheville took advantage of a rash of Liberty turnovers to fashion a 9-0 run. A driving layup by Major trimmed the visitors' deficit to 17 points (44-27) with 1:12 left in the third quarter. Liberty took an 18-point lead (47-29) into the final 10 minutes.
Jumpers by Ja'Da Brayboy bookended a 7-0 Bulldog run which cut the Liberty advantage to single digits (51-42) with 5:46 to play. That was as close as Asheville got, though, as Kearney scored off of passes by Alexander on each of Liberty's next two possessions to slow the Bulldogs' momentum.
Liberty shot 87.5 percent (7-of-8) from the field and made all 10 of its free throws during a 24-point fourth quarter, holding the Bulldogs at bay.
The Lady Flames finished the night at 83.3 percent (15-of-18) from the foul line after only shooting two free throws before halftime.
Liberty used its size advantage to outrebound the Big South's top rebounding team (38-33), tally 34 points in the paint and block a season-high 11 shots. Katelyn Adams' season-high four rejections helped the Lady Flames reach double figures in blocks for the first time since turning away 10 Radford shots on Dec. 6, 2014.
Asheville did come up with 18 offensive boards, leading to 13 second chance points. The Bulldogs also turned 24 Liberty turnovers (16 in the second half) into 24 points.
Kearney, who is averaging 17.0 ppg and 8.8 rpg during Liberty's four-game winning streak, eclipsed the 500-point mark for her career on Monday.
Sanders chipped in 16 points and a career-high nine rebounds, while Sadalia Ellis scored in double digits for the third straight contest (10 points, 4 assists).
Liberty also got strong production from its bench, including a game-high and career-high six assists by Alexander and six points from Fisher-Davis. The senior guard hit both of her three-point attempts on the evening, moving into 10th place on Liberty's all-time list with 99 career triples.
Brayboy scored all 10 of her points after halftime for the Bulldogs.
Liberty will take to the road for three of its next four games, beginning with a matinee at Presbyterian (7-7, 3-2 Big South) on Saturday. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Templeton Center.