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Defense and 3-pointers Put Eagles over Flames, Saturday
The Liberty men's basketball team stepped into the Winthrop Coliseum, Saturday night, looking for its first win inside the facility in nearly nine years. Unfortunately for the Flames, Winthrop showed why it's the No. 1 scoring defense in the Big South, coupling defensive pressure with solid outside shooting en route to a 66-56 Eagles victory.
With the defeat, Liberty falls to 7-16 overall and 3-6 in the Big South. Winthrop improves to 10-11 on the season and 4-5 in conference action. The Eagles improve their all-time series record against Liberty to 33-15. Winthrop is now 19-5 against the Flames inside Winthrop Coliseum, boosting their win streak to 11 straight.
Tavares Speaks led Liberty with 15 points, securing his 12th straight double-digit scoring performance. After back-to-back 20-point efforts, Davon Marshall finished with 11 tallies on the night, followed by Tomasz Gielo (10).
Joab Jerome paced the Eagles' offense with a career-high 18 points. Derrick Henry and Larry Brown added 15 and 10 tallies, respectively, for the home team.
Liberty's 56 tallies marks the sixth consecutive game Winthrop has held its opponent below 60 points. The Eagles shot 45.6 percent (26-of-57), while holding Liberty to 33.9 percent (19-of-56).
Despite the Flames coming into the contest leading the Big South three-point percentage, the Winthrop defense held Liberty to a season-low 15.0 percent (3-of-20) from downtown. On the opposite end, the Eagles knocked down 7-of-16 treys (43.8 percent). The Flames closed the night with its best free throw percentage of the season, hitting 15-of-16 shots (93.8 percent) from the charity stripe. Liberty's seven turnovers are also the fewest by the Flames, this season.
Liberty came out firing in the first half, outscoring the Eagles, 9-2, in the opening 4:17. Coronado highlighted the burst with four tallies, while Sanders capped the seven-point lead with a three-pointer at 16:43.
Winthrop's defense came alive in the ensuing 8:14, allowing its offense to go on a 13-4 run during the span. After a Jerome jumper in the paint put the Eagles ahead by two, Marshall countered with a long two-point basket on the other end to knot the contest, 15-15, at 7:44.
Liberty did not post a field for the next 6:40, allowing Winthrop to take as much as seven-point lead in the closing minutes. A Speaks jumper broke the drought at 1:04, while a Roberts basket put the Flames within one. Larry Brown closed the half for the Eagles, hitting a jumper with three ticks left to give the Eagles a 26-23 halftime lead.
Winthrop jumped out to a seven-point lead in the second half, until a stop-and-pop three-pointer by Marshall cut the Liberty deficit to four. Marshall helped make it a two-point game, pairing with Speaks on a 2-on-1 fast break, resulting in a Speaks Layup. After a Winthrop free throw, a Sanders layup put Liberty within one. Gideon Gamble then gave the Eagles a cushion, knocking down a trey at 14:34 to make it 36-32.
Two more Winthrop three-pointers allowed the Eagles to take a nine-point lead with 12:13 remaining in the contest. Liberty answered with a 9-2 burst, highlighted by a Roberts three-pointer, to pull within two, 45-43, at 9:46.
The Eagles continued to find their range from downtown. An Andre Smith trey with 2:33 left gave Winthrop an 11-point advantage. The Eagles added another basket 30 seconds later to take its largest advantage (13) of the contest, ultimately leading to the 66-56 final.
Winthrop heads to Asheville, N.C., Wednesday, to take on UNC Asheville at 7 p.m.
Liberty returns to the Vines Center, Tuesday playing host to fellow North Division competitor Radford. The contest tips off at 7 p.m., airing live on the Liberty Channel, ESPN3, MASN2 and Comcast Sports South.