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Strong Second Half Lifts Asheville over Liberty
The Liberty men's basketball team began Big South Conference play, Saturday night, hosting two-time defending champion UNC Asheville. The Flames came out the Vines Center tunnel firing on all cylinders to take a one-point lead into halftime. However, the Bulldogs benefited from a career-high 27-point effort from Keith Hornsby to win, 83-69.
With the loss, Liberty falls to 4-11 on the year and 0-1 in conference action. Asheville improves to 7-8, this season, and 1-0 in the Big South. The Bulldogs are now 30-20 all-time against the Flames, including 11-12 in the Vines Center.
John Caleb Sanders paced the Flames' offense with 19 points, followed Tavares Speaks (15) and Davon Marshall (12).
Along with Hornsby's performance, Asheville received double-digit scoring figures from Will Weeks (15), Jeremy Atkinson (12) and D.J. Cunningham (10). Cunningham also finished the night with 10 rebounds and four blocks.
Asheville shot 52.6 percent (30-of-57) from the field, while holding the Flames to 39.7 percent (25-of-63). Liberty's field goal percentage on the night snaps a four-game streak of shooting 40.0 percent or better.
The Flames outscored Bulldogs from three-point arc, 21-9, but Asheville controlled the paint, 38-20. The visitors also capitalized with 14 points off turnovers compared to the Flames four tallies.
The Bulldogs held a four-point advantage in early going, but a Marshall three-pointer put the Flames ahead by one at 16:38. Just over a minute later, another trey from Sanders increased Liberty's advantage to four. After an Asheville basket by Weeks, three more tallies off a basket by Joel Vander Pol jumper and the ensuring free throw gave the Flames a 15-10 lead at 11:46.
Liberty led by as much as 10 during the first half, taking a double-digit lead thanks to a Speaks jumper at 7:05. However, Asheville rallied in the remaining minutes, outscoring the Flames 14-5 to close out the half. Hornsby capped off the Bulldogs' scoring in the period, connecting on a fast break layup to cut Liberty's lead to one at halftime, 29-28.
In the second half, Asheville lit up the scoreboard during the opening 21 ticks to go on top by one point. Liberty regained the lead at 16:03, thanks to a Casey Roberts three-pointer. The Bulldogs regained the advantage off a Hornsby trey, making it 41-39 with 15:35 remaining.
Asheville began to pull away during the ensuing minutes. After a Sanders fast break layup made it a three-point game just over the 11-minute mark, the Bulldogs outscored the Flames 10-3 over the next 3:06. A Hornsby three-pointer at 7:59 gave the visitors a 10-point lead, 63-53.
Liberty failed to climb any closer down the stretch. The Bulldogs took their largest lead of the night (16), when Hornsby nailed a jumper with 3:15 left. Marshall cut it to 12 with 1:35, but UNC Asheville prevented the Flames from narrowing the gap, holding on for the 83-69 final.
UNC Asheville heads to Gardner-Webb on Wednesday, squaring off with the Runnin' Bulldogs at 7 p.m.
Liberty travels to nearby Lexington, Va., to continue conference play against fellow Commonwealth competitor VMI. Tipoff inside Cameron Hall is slated for 7 p.m.