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Niagara Prevails Over Liberty In Tight O'Reilly ESPNU BracketBusters Game
The Niagara Purple Eagles (17-11, 11-5 MAAC) used three-point baskets and free throws to sink the Liberty Flames (12-16, 6-6 BSC), Saturday afternoon, at the Gallagher Center as part of the O'Reilly ESPNU BracketBusters weekend, 90-81.
The Purple Eagles opened the game on a 5-2 run after Clif Brown's basket in the paint at the 18:53 mark. Liberty started to get its legs under them, taking a 9-7 when Damien Hubbard hit a wide-open three-point basket from the wing with 17:46 left in the half.
Niagara then went streaking to a 28-17 lead on the heels of a 21-8 run that was capped by a three-point basket from Brown at the top of the key at the 10:35 mark.
The 11 points would be the most the Purple Eagles would lead by in the opening period as Liberty closed out the half on a 17-10 spurt to cut Niagara's lead to 38-34 at the break. Of that run, Liberty scored six-straight points, including two free throws by B.J. Jenkins with 7.2 seconds left in the half.
Lost in the tight first half was a bit of Big South Conference history as Larry Blair's field goal at the 11:18 mark enable the senior guard to break Tony Dunkin's all-time mark of 775 career field goals.
Liberty hit 48.3 percent from the floor in the opening period on 14-of-29 shooting and Niagara hit 41.7 percent on 15-of-36 shooting. The difference was the Purple Eagles hitting 5-of-16 shots from three-point range to Liberty's 2-of-5 shooting from behind the arc. The Purple Eagles also outrebounded the Flames by seven, 23-16, including eight offensive rebounds.
Niagara got off to a fast start to open the second half as they moved their lead back to double-figures on the heels of a 14-6 run capped by a Charron Fisher lay-up with 15:22 left in the game, giving the Purple Eagles a 52-40 lead.
The game stayed even over the next few minutes with Niagara scoring 10 out of the next 18 points as the home team extended its lead to 62-48 with 12:18 left. But that would be the Purple Eagles' largest lead of the game at 14 points.
The Flames came roaring back on a 21-12 run that included two Tyler Baker three-point shots and was capped on back-to-back free throws by Anthony Smith. The run cut the lead to 74-69 with 4:09 left in the game.
Two teams remained even over the next few minute as Dwight Brewington hit two free throws with 3:13 left in the game to remain five points back, 78-73. But that would be as close as the Flames would get as they were forced to foul after Niagara scored three-straight points courtesy of two Liberty fouls including an off the ball foul on Blair with 1:45 left, making it 81-73.
Niagara closed out the game from the charity strip as they hit 9-of-10 shots from the line in the closing minute.
Liberty was led by Brewington and Alex McLean who each scored 17 points. Brewington grabbed seven rebounds, dished five assists, blocked three shots and grabbed two steals. McLean pulled down six rebounds. Smith scored 15 points while going 7-of-8 from the free throw line. Blair chipped in 12 points, leaving him three-point short of Dunkin's all-time Big South scoring record (2,151).
Fisher led Niagara with 22 points and seven rebounds. Brown collected a double-double with 18 points and 11 boards. Lorenzo Miles scored 15 points and Tyrone Lewis chipped in 10 points in the win.
Each team shot identical from the field at 48.4 percent on 30-of-62 shooting. The difference maker was Niagara hitting eight three-point baskets to Liberty's four. Niagara also was 22-of-30 from the free throw line and Liberty was 17-of-23. Niagara also won the rebounding battle by 17, 41-24.
Liberty returns to Big South Conference action on Wednesday when they travel to VMI. Tip is set for 7 p.m.