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Gardner-Webb Outlasts Liberty, Saturday Night
Looking to climb the Big South North Division standings, the Liberty men's basketball team squared off with Gardner-Webb, Saturday night, inside Paul Porter Arena.
In a closely contested affair featuring nine ties and 14 lead changes, John Caleb Sanders paced the Flames with a career-high 27 points, including 25 in the second half. Unfortunately, Liberty was unable to make it seven straight against the Runnin' Bulldogs, as Garner-Webb hung on to win, 71-68.
Sanders' scoring performance put him over the 800-point mark for his Liberty career. The Sugar Land, Texas native now has 809 career tallies. Davon Marshall and Tomasz Gielo each finished with 11 points.
Tavares Speaks chipped in seven points, ending a 13-game double digit scoring streak.
Tashan Newsome led the Runnin' Bulldogs with 26 points, followed by Donta Harper, who added 16 points and a game-high nine boards.
With the loss, Liberty falls to 8-17 overall and 4-7 in conference play. Gardner-Webb improves to 14-11 on the year and 6-5 in the Big South.
Liberty concluded the night shooting 43.4 percent (23-of-53) from the field, while the Runnin' Bulldogs shot 38.6 percent (22-of-57). The Flames edged the home team from three-point range, 12-9, but Gardner-Webb made up for the difference at the foul line, sinking 24 free throws compared to 18 for Liberty.
Gardner-Webb lit up the scoreboard first, but the Flames responded with five straight points off a jumper and a three-pointer from Gielo. The Runnin' Bulldogs countered with a 5-0 burst of their own to knot the contest at seven. Liberty then went on a 6-0 run highlighted by an Andrew Smith dunk at 12:53. Gardner-Webb erased its deficit over the ensuing 3:31, tying the contest again, 14-14, courtesy of a Donta Harper jumper at 9:22.
The home team took the lead on a Jerome Hill layup at 5:20 and maintained control for the remainder of the half. Newsome posted the Runnin' Bulldogs last six points of the period, helping Gardner-Webb carry a 30-24 lead into the locker room at halftime.
In the second half, the Runnin' Bulldogs extended their lead to 10, 40-30, at the 14:54 mark with two Newsome free throws. Liberty then went on an 8-0 run, which included six points by Sanders. With Liberty within two, Max Landis knocked down a trey for the Runnin' Bulldogs to increase the advantage to five.
Liberty countered with a traditional three-point play by Sanders and a fast break layup from Speaks to knot the contest, 43-43, with 10:47 left on the clock.
The contest remained close, with four more ties occurring over the next four minutes. Gardner-Webb went back up by four off jumpers by Newsome and Strange. Liberty erased the deficit with four consecutive Sanders free throws, knotting the contest at 55 with 4:01 left.
Newsome gave the Runnin' Bulldogs the lead on the next possession. With Garnder-Webb leading by seven in the remaining minutes, Speaks nailed a trey to put the Flames within four with 21 ticks left. After a Gardner-Webb free throw, Sanders made it a three-point game with a layup. Liberty was forced to foul in the remaining seconds, resulting in the 71-68 final.
Gardner-Webb heads to UNC Asheville for a matchup with the Bulldogs, Wednesday, at 7 p.m.
Liberty remains on the road Wednesday, squaring off with Campbell. In the first meeting this season on Jan. 29, the Flames defeated the Fighting Camels inside the Vines Center, 89-72. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m., with the contest airing live on the Liberty Channel, MASN2 and ESPN3.