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Divisional Leader High Point Holds Off Relentless Flames
|Flames guard Casey Roberts|
Looking to climb the Big South North Division standings, Saturday night, the Liberty men's basketball team welcomed divisional leader High Point into the Vines Center. The Flames led in the early going, but the Panthers took an 11-point lead midway through the second half and held off a relentless Liberty squad for the 73-68 decision.
Liberty leading scorer John Caleb Sanders finished with a game-high 23 points, while Tavares Speaks and Casey Roberts closed out the night with 15 and 11 tallies, respectively.
High Point's dynamic duo of John Brown and Allan Chaney lived up to their billing, posting 17 and 16 points, apiece. Chaney also added 13 rebounds to his double digit scoring effort.
The Panthers shot 47.9 percent (23-of-48) from the field, while Liberty ended the night on 39.2 percent shooting.
Liberty falls to 9-18 overall and 5-8 in conference play. High Point improves to 15-10 on the year and 10-3 in Big South action, extending its current win streak to six games. The Panthers' victory marks its third all-time and second straight in the Vines Center. High Point is also the first Big South squad to reach 10 conference wins, this season.
High Point lit up the scoreboard first, but the Flames countered with a 6-2 burst to take an 8-4 lead at the 16:21 mark. After High Point knotted the contest with back-to-back buckets, Marshall knocked down a three-pointer to put the Flames back up by three.
High Point then went on a 10-0 run highlighted by five points from Chaney and a Devante Wallace three-pointer. Speaks broke up the spurt with two made free throws. Sanders later followed with a layup to pull the Flames within three, 18-15, at 8:09.
With just over four minutes to play in the half, Speaks and Sanders ignited the crowd with a give-and-go play. Running toward the basket, Speaks dished it to Sanders, who returned to sender, allowing Speaks to finish the one-handed dunk. High Point answered on the opposite end with a three-pointer by Wallace.
On the next Panthers' possession, Roberts picked the pocket of Wallace and connected on an acrobatic layup to make it a four-point game, 28-24, at 3:01. High Point closed out the half with a 7-0 run to take a 35-24 lead into the locker room at halftime.
High Point shot 53.8 percent (14-of-26) from the field in the opening stanza, while holding Liberty to 35.7 percent (10-of-28). The tandem of Brown and Chaney led all scorers in the first period with nine points, each. Speaks paced the Flames' offense with six tallies.
In the second half, Liberty quickly posted four unanswered points to cut the deficit to seven. After a High Point free throw, Sanders made two of his own at the other end to make it a six-point game. Chaney responded with an authoritative dunk to put the Panthers ahead by eight, 38-30, at 16:54.
With High Point holding a nine-point lead at the 16:25 mark, Liberty proceeded to go on an 11-2 run. The Flames began the burst with six straight free throws. Following a basket by Derrell Edwards, Sanders posted five unanswered points, including a three-pointer to knot the game, 42-42, at 11:40.
After buckets by both teams kept the contest tied, High Point recorded nine straight points. Sanders halted the run with a layup and a made free throw, making it 53-47, at 8:41.
The Panthers led by 10 with under eight minutes left, but a 7-0 run by the Flames closed the gap. Roberts' kicked off the surge with a three-pointer, followed by four straight Liberty free throws. Dejuan McGaughy stopped the scoring burst with a jumper on the other end. Roberts then answered with a three-pointer to put Liberty within a basket, 59-57, at 5:24.
In the remaining minutes, the Flames were unable to climb any closer. Forced to foul in the final minute, the Panthers were able to increase their advantage to eight at the free throw line with 10 seconds left.
Speaks closed out the scoring on the night, sinking a trey with two seconds left, which ultimately led to the 73-68 final.
High Point remains on the road, Tuesday, to take on VMI. Game time is set for 7 p.m.
Liberty heads to Farmville, Va., Tuesday, squaring off with Longwood. The Flames won the first meeting over the Big South newcomer on Jan. 22, 74-47. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m., with the contest airing live on the Liberty Channel, MASN2 and ESPN3.